Refined tastes

April 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm 11 comments


I have been talking a lot about eating organic and eating local, and eating less meat.  Continuing on the subject of reducing the environmental impact of food, I want to talk about another aspect that has recently been on my mind – refined foods. I am, especially, referring to flour, bread, rice and sugar.

Refining grains, including rice and wheat, consists in the mechanic removal of the germ and the bran, leaving only the endosperm, the starch. As such, refined grains not only loose 90% of their nutritional value and fiber, they also consume a considerably larger amount of energy to produce than whole grains. If this was not bad enough, there is more. White rice grains are polished with glucose, starch or talc (which has been linked to stomach cancer and is still used in some countries), making it nice and shiny.

White flower, in turn, is only white because it’s bleached with ” potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide  or chlorine dioxide gas. Potassium bromate is also known as Bromic Acid or Potassium Salt. It’s an oxidizing agent, can be fatal if swallowed, is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may also cause kidney damage. Benzoyl peroxide is another irritant that can kill animals, birds, or fish, and cause death or low growth rate in plants. Chlorine Dioxide is also a pesticide and even though it breaks down very quickly, it is ranked in the USA as one of the compounds most hazardous to the environment.”[green living tips].

And that’s not the end of the story. Since all nutrients have been removed from the refined product, these are then often added back as synthetic vitamins, with the associated impact of producing them industrially. To add to the creepiness factor, nutrients are often ‘sprayed’ into the bread mixture.

My beef with refined sugar comes from the way it’s made, which involves either adding sulphur dioxide or phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide, centrifuging and vaccum crystallizing. And brown sugar? I have been shamefully duped  into buying brown sugar, innocently believing that it was less refined than white sugar, and hence, better for the environment. But NO!!! Turns out, most of the brown sugar, including the one I have been buying, is actually produced by adding molasses/dye to … you guessed it…. refined white sugar! What a scam….

Now that I know the truth, I am know that, as a self-respecting  wannabe environmentalist, I have to take some drastic measures and pledging all refined things out of my life!

Rice grains by IRRI on Flickr.

Entry filed under: energy, environment, food, green, organic.

The only good peach… Queen’s Day

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. greenchick  |  April 27, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Refined foods are the reason that American’s are so fat. We are taking all of the fat out of our foods and replacing it with high –fructose corn syrup and grains that have been completely stripped of all nutrients. I’m glad to see that this low-fat, no-fat crazy is starting to die. We are better with going with what is natural. Our pets are also fat and unhealthy for the same reason. Most packaged pet food is primarily comprised of grain, while cats and dogs are carnivores. We should be feeding them raw, natural organic meat. Instead they are getting dry kibble that is packed with chemicals, refined grains and artificial flavors. I research the natural pet industry for a living and I’m really passionate about the issue. I recently wrote a post on this issue.

    Let’s think about what were feeding our four legged friends.

  • 2. Gwyn  |  April 28, 2007 at 1:26 am

    They bleach flour – I had no idea!

  • 3. Mido  |  April 29, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Wow, I just found your blog through another environmental blog (Green as a Thistle). As a fellow student, I am excited to find your blog because there aren’t that many student blogs out there on environmentalism (or maybe I can’t find them?) Are you from Portugal? I read something about it in your information. Well, here’s a hello over from Virginia, USA.

    What would be the solution to the refined goods products? Is there anyway to get good pasta or is that a no-go for? I really don’t know, since I have very little knowledge on that stuff. Any suggestions on low-cost but low impact foods? I am going to be living in an apartment next year and as I will not be on the school’s meal plan, I have no idea how I am going to feed myself. I guess I’ll check out your blog history later…now it is exam week and I am at my wit’s end (and am not entirely in my environmental mindset as of late).

    Anyway, cool blog!


  • 4. Mido  |  April 29, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Ah, okay…I see that you are from the Netherlands? Very cool. Sorry for the misinterpretation of your quote on your info page.

    There really should be some way to edit comments on wordpress 😦

  • 5. Alina  |  April 29, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Mido. Thanks. In fact, you didn’t get it wrong. I am from Portugal and I am studying in the Netherlands for almost 2 years now. I’ve been meaning to write something ‘about me’ but I didn’t get around to do it yet.

    Of course there is an alternative- eat brown rice, whole grain flower, whole grain pasta (brown pasta?), whole grain bread (instead of white) and raw sugar (which you have to make sure is unprocessed instead of refined white sugar dyed brown). Avoid processed foods which are packed with refined flour and other things that are bad for you. Some ‘whole’ foods are more expensive but I don’t think its a big difference, some might even be cheaper. But what should push you to do it is that whole foods are MUCH more nutritious and rich in fiber which is really much better for your health.

    Thanks for visiting and good luck with your exams.

  • 6. gettinggreen  |  May 1, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    You’re from Portugal? Get out, that’s so cool! I loathe my Anglo, monolingual roots…

    I’m sending this post over to my nutrition-obsessed friend Meghan at — she signs off all her emails with the signature “pass the brown rice, please”.

    Despite the fact that I myself may be white and somewhat refined, I never eat any food that is, if I can help it. There’s only brown rice in my cupboard, brown sugar (though I’ll have to check up on that), whole grain bread and not much flour-based products at all.

    Scary, some of that research!

  • 7. Ashlee  |  May 1, 2007 at 4:25 pm


    I am currently a Bailey Scholar and was directed to your site from the email you sent out. Kudos on your blog! I don’t have much time to read it now but will do so in the future. I have become extremely interested in sustainability and how to reduce my own footprint but I find it hard as a student ( and really haven’t taken action on my views ) I am also a food science major and have been struggling on how to combine food science and sustainability. It seems like the only jobs out there are involving processed foods which leads to more trash, huge use of energy and fossil fuels, and the huge health problems of the US and other developed nations. I have been following the slow food movements and the raise in demand for the local farm. I believe that we all need to get back to the basics and reconnect with our food system. Now I just need to see where I fit in the scheme of food science and sustainability, it’s no easy feat.
    I look forward to following your blog over the summer and hope to actually post on mine. So glad you reconnected with Bailey!

  • 8. Alina  |  May 1, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Vanessa, yeah, I figured you were above white and refined, but you never know… I have to admit I’m kind of a sucker for white basmati rice and I still didn’t figure out the how to cook brown rice just right, but I’m working on it… Make sure that brown sugar is the right kind though, I felt so double-crossed when I found out about mine…And about my roots, you don’t know the half of it… I am also russian born and jewish :p I guess I should write the ‘about’ section I’ve been promising, huh?

    Ashlee, thanks for visiting. Actually my boyfriend is a Bailey Scholar, not me, he is the one who sent out the email. Check back soon though, he has been promising to write a post or two 😉

  • 9. Caroline in NH  |  May 1, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    White rice is something I’m trying to convince my family to change, but I make my own flour in a home grinder from organic wheat, and bake whole-wheat bread from my home-ground flour. Store bought flour has been modified in part because the oils in freshly ground flour will cause it to go rancid if it is stored long-term. Home ground flour retains all of the natural germ, oils, bran, etc. I have worked very hard to produce a whole wheat bread that the whole family likes, and that works for sandwiches.

  • 10. Alina  |  May 2, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    wow! Your own flour?! Thats SO cool! I know that’s way too advanced for us…

  • 11. Caroline in NH  |  May 2, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Alina, you have no idea how *easy* it is to make your own flour. I set up the grinder (remove it from under the counter and plug it in…), measure and add the wheat berries, and turn it on. I start putting together my bread recipe (water, oil, honey, 1 egg… ) and by then the flour is usually done – just a few minutes. I dump it from the grinder into the bread machine pan then add salt, gluten and yeast… The machine does the mix and first rise, then I take it out, knead it, let it rise and finish baking in the oven in a glass loaf pan. Very easy. [The honey is local, the egg is from my hens, the wheat berries are organic and *cheap*, the mill is a Nutrimill.]

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April 2007

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