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Is white bread better for your teeth than wholewheat?

One of the clear results from Dr May Mellanby’s extensive work on dental decay is what she referred to as “the cereal effect”.  Poorly mineralized teeth and dental decay were more evident in subjects who consumed the greatest amount of cereal grains.  Dr Mellanby showed it that the wheat germ in the flour contained an anticalcifying agent that affected tooth development and mineralization.  This anticalcifying could be countered with larger intakes of vitamin D and calcium.

Subsequent work showed that the anticalcifying agent is phytic acid, or phytate, which is present in the fiber and husks of cereal grains, seeds, nuts and legumes.  White rice and white flour have low levels of phytate, while whole wheat flour and oatmeal have higher levels.  When ingested, phytate chemically binds with calcium and other minerals such including magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable for absorption.  The minerals are then excreted with the undigested fiber.  

The effect of consuming phytate-rich cereal grains is essentially the same as reducing the dietary intake of calcium and other minerals.

In Hawaii during the 1920’s rampant early childhood decay in the children of plantation workers was eliminated when taro and sweet potatoes were substituted for the rice and bread that made up much of their diet. Taro and sweet potatoes are low in phytate.

You can have your grains and eat them too.

Phytate content or grains and legumes can be reduced through a number of preparations including soaking, sprouting, fermentation and slow-rise breadmaking. A good introduction to the healthy preparation of grains can be found in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.