The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is whole wheat a healthy choice for children?

antonis's picture

Is whole wheat a healthy choice for children?

 I read in the Taste of Bread of Professor Calvel that whole wheat is not suitable for children since it does not allow calcium to be absorbed by the body. It seems that this is confirmed by the relative article in wikipedia:

This acid, contained in whole wheat, is called "antinutrient".

 Is there evidence that this is wrong? Or should children and women who need more calcium avoid eating whole wheat at least in breakfast where milk and whole grains are consumed (as bread or as cereals)?




JMonkey's picture

I'm no nutritionist, but from what I understand, so long as the dough contains lactic acids -- i.e. either a sourdough or a dough made with something like buttermilk or yogurt -- Phytic acid is mostly destroyed.

Here's a couple of references.

kanin's picture

Soaking also neutralizes phytic acid. Also makes bread taste better. Reinhart's WGB takes full advantage of soaking to increase nutrition and flavor.

Rosalie's picture

When you look at foods microscopically, you see all kinds of things.  I liken it to some of the full-body medical tests that are often pushed.  They find anomalies, and after expensive further testing, it's found that they weren't really problems at all.

Whole wheat and other whole grains should be a good part of everyone's diet.  We should all eat a wide variety of whole foods and minimize the processed stuff - including refined flour, the alternative to whole grain.  (If I sound like Michael Pollan, it's because I agree with him 100%.)

Anyway, if you go for the long rise (I like overnight in the refrigerator), that should minimize any problem there might be.


antonis's picture


Thank you for the answers. If I make the bread, then as you say, the sourdough process will destroy phytic acid. Same with soaking. But my question is general. Not what to do to get rid of it. Say, I buy cereals, or I enter a bakery. Should I prefer whole wheat or avoid it? Most people do not make their bread. My friends usually buy bread and cereals. When I read in Calvels book, "do not eat it" and "this information is from pseudo-medical groups", then I am concerned, and do not know what to suggest.

 Dear Rosalie, it is not a matter of preference. I do not want to aggree or disaggree. I want to know. It is a matter of knowledge. And I can not forget that if the flour companies fail to convince me to eat whole grains, they will be forced to give it for animal feed for pennies per metric tone.

I have talk to many physicians and they all suggest that whole should be prefered. But when I ask about phytc acid they know absolutely nothing. Calvel says that this issue is well known from the beggining of the 20th century (1908) by extensive research. How come physisians know nothing?

 So my question again is this: is there any research that supports the converse of what Calvel says?


Yerffej's picture

I think that there are a couple of issues here.  Wikipedia, is the first issue, as it is hardly a source to be relied upon.  Secondly I do not believe that the issue is one of whole grains for children vs. whole grains for adults, rather the issue is the benefit or liability of whole grains for the human body of any age.

Traditionally whole grains were sprouted or fermented in the interest of reducing the effects of phytic acid. Here is a quote from an article on sourdough;  "research has shown that the lacto-bacilli present in sourdough cultures effectively neutralize the toxic components of the wheat gluten molecule".


The vast majority of the bread I bake is made with whole grains and sourdough for the very reason of reducing the negative effects of phytic acid.  So I would say that Calvel is correct, IF sourdough is not used, but should have directed his comments to all ages and not just children.

I would buy sourdough white flour bread over whole wheat made without sourdough.  As for the doctors they only know what they have been taught and they have generally been taught almost nothing about nutrition.


antonis's picture

Thanks for the reply and the very interesting link.

So it turns out that whole wheat is a bad choice if bread is made with the extremely quick bakery methods using bakers yeast.

Whole foods always need lacto-fermentation or presoaking.

You see... these things are not clear to the general public. That is why I asked, to make sure that Calvel is right (or wrong).


PiperBaker's picture

While I'm an advocate of a whole foods (and whole grain) diet, I'll set that aside for a second.  Approaching the question and just taking a quick look at some of the websites indicates that this might be a hasty conclusion.  Some of them indicate that if whole grains are a person's only source of the minerals that phytic acid clings onto, there might be problems with getting enough of these minerals, such as calcium.  However, I don't think that in the developed world this is the case (and in much of the not-quiet-so developed world, either, such as where I'm currently living).  I would also want to know exactly how much calcium is inhibited by the phytic acid found in the whole grains, and how long the effects last. Incidentally, other minerals also inhibit each other--I think iron and calcium is the classic one, but I might be wrong.  It doesn't mean that you avoid one because it can prevent uptake of the other, it means that you eat a wide variety of whole foods to get all the nutrition you need. I also find it strange that your source claims this information is from "pseudo-scientific" organizations.  To my mind, that means Mr. Calvel needs to do a lot of credibility building for the source before we can accept their assertion.

Putting on my whole foods advocate hat now, the other nutrients you get with whole grains (including breads made quickly) I believe would far, far outweigh the minimal inhibition of nutrient absorption.  Of course, as long as you're eating a variety of foods.  I just get worried when someone makes a blanket statement that says a more natural/less refined food is worse than the refined adulterated product.  I probably won't convince anyone of my viewpoint, but would encourage you to do some more research before rejecting whole grains for this particular reason.

Rosalie's picture

You don't need to convince me because I already agree with you.  Like I said above, we need to stop looking at pieces through the microscope and start looking holistically.


antonis's picture

Dear PiperBaker, you write


I just get worried when someone makes a blanket statement that says a more natural/less refined food is worse than the refined adulterated product.


This sounds dogmatic to me. Is peeling an organge or an egg a refinement? We like it or not, it is. Do you eat egg shells or orange peel? I bet you don't. Why you protest so strongly to peeling wheat? Do you think maybe that orange peel has no vitamins or fiber? People refine nature's products from the beggining of history. You may say, I like unpeeled wheat so I eat it. This is fine. But to support the idea that refinement is bad it is just wrong.


Cooking is also a refinement. Isn't it? And what a refinement it is...!! Should we start eating everything raw?


Here I tried to cross check the information passed to us by Professor Calvel. And it seems that people know this issue and a proper refinement (acid  fermentation) solves the problem. I support science and not dogmas. The only thing I aggree with you is the quantitative problem you raised, for which I will do some research.



cdnDough's picture

These are the sorts of questions that folks with a good background in biochemistry, food science and/or chemical nutrition enjoy debating.  Food chemistry is incredibly complex and few on this site will be able to give you an unbiased and educated answer to your question.

The general rule is that if you eat a varied diet, these sorts of questions are of little concern.  It is more important when considering individuals with metabolic/digestive defficiencies or in developing nations where a person's diet is constrained and might comprise one or two staple items for many months.