Be it soft pav or fluffy moist cake or hot crispy samosa, the first go-to ingredient is maida. Why? Because its high stretchability is a desirable quality for a variety of dishes. It makes the end result softer and lighter and crispier, as per the requirement in hand.
But did you know that maida based food items, which are a delight to our tongue, actually cause havoc to every other part of our body? It not only contributes zero nutrients to our body but is also the root cause of several chronic diseases like cancer, hypertension, digestion problems, and diabetes.
Then why do we still use maida?
It is a common misconception that replacing maida with whole-wheat flour makes the dish dense and gives it doughy atta like after-taste. I can assure you that it is not so. I make whole wheat bread, pizza base, white pasta sauce, and cookies at home which my kids absolutely love. My whole-wheat jaggery cake is always in high demand whenever we have relatives and friends over. I have shared that recipe at the end of this article. Definitely do try it.
Even products that are advertised as whole-wheat/brown actually list refined flour as one of the ingredients in their label. Thanks to the growing awareness towards the harmful effects of maida, FSSAI has now made it mandatory to be very clear as to whether a particular product has refined wheat flour or whole wheat flour in it so that manufacturers can no longer vaguely put wheat flour on their labels and get away with it.
Difference between whole wheat flour and maida:
Whole wheat grain is everything that nature intended it to be. It is high in protein, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. It is made by grinding the entire wheat grain which basically consists of three parts: Bran, germ and endosperm.
Maida on the other hand is made from wheat grains after removing the bran (which actually has the highest amount of fiber). It is milled and then refined by passing it through a very fine sieve in such a way that even trace amounts of the germ also gets removed. The resultant nutrition deprived flour is then bleached using hazardous chemicals like Alloxan and Benzoyl peroxide to make it appear white.
Is maida healthy?
It is most definitely not healthy. Forget about getting some nutrition from this ingredient, in fact, it actually causes a plethora of health issues in our body. Below are a few ways in which maida is secretly causing problems for us.
Due to the absence of fiber in maida, it gets digested and absorbed very fast. Hence refined flours have a high glycemic index.
As soon as any maida based food is consumed, it immediately causes a sudden spike in blood sugar and within an hour or two, the sugar level drops. This sudden shift in the blood sugar levels as well as lack of nutrition in maida induces frequent hunger/cravings and the tendency to overeat. This increased calorie intake eventually translates to weight gain.
Refined flour also impairs fat oxidation, the process by which the body burns fat for fuel and it also promotes fat deposits (1) in the abdominal region leading to increased waist circumference.
2. Increased risk of heart diseases
Imbalances in blood sugar levels caused due to consumption of maida increase the triglyceride levels and LDL or bad cholesterol. These are known risk factors for heart diseases and can lead to clogged arteries or increased blood pressure. A diet consisting of less refined flour has shown to significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors.
3. Spike in blood sugar levels
Maida leads to erratic spike and fall in blood sugar levels which may ultimately lead to insulin resistance and development of Type-2 diabetes,
Diseases associated with excessive consumption of maida:
Studies (2) have shown that 30–40 percent of all cancers can be prevented by making lifestyle and dietary changes. Zero nutrient foods such as refined flour leads to obesity, impaired glucose metabolism, low fiber intake and imbalance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats which are all major risk factors for cancer.
High intake of carbohydrate from high GI foods has been significantly associated with increased risk of colon, endometrial and bladder cancer (3).
The impact of refined carbohydrates on cancer risk may be even more pronounced when combined with the other unhealthy components like refined sugar, food additives, high sodium intake, unhealthy fats etc
5. Neurological disorders
High-glycemic diet which potentially leads to insulin resistance has also been associated with cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease and Parkinsons disease. Refined flour has also been linked to difficulty in concentration, feeling drowsy, and having a sluggish memory.
Nutrition-related lifestyle factors have been shown to play a significant role in the development of acne (4), which is a common skin disease that affects individuals of all ages. The consumption of refined carbohydrates triggers excessive insulin secretion; which increases sebum production in skin follicles, leading to obstruction of the follicles and the development of inflamed skin lesions, i.e., pimples.
7. Aggravates existing hormonal imbalances
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder among women. It has been associated with insulin resistance and low grade inflammation. Maida further aggravates insulin levels and inflammation, both of which are already elevated in women with PCOS. Hence it is highly recommended to eliminate refined white flour, and the products that contain white flour (cookies, cakes, etc.) from the diet of women with PCOS.
8. Disrupts digestion
Whole wheat grains are packed with fibre, which aids in regular bowel movement and eliminate unwanted toxins through our bowel movements.
However, when we eat refined flour, we aren’t receiving those digestive benefits. Maida becomes a glue-like substance in our gut, thus clogging up the system and causing constipation.
Studies also show that whole grains can impact our gut microbiota which plays a significant role in the digestion process.
Some other repercussions:
9. Anxiety and depression
Avoiding a diet high in maida can also keep depression at bay. Various studies have shown the direct correlation between consumption of high amounts of refined flour and depression.
It has been proven that consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fish affords protection against the onset of depressive symptoms, whereas a diet rich in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals, and high-fat dairy products increases vulnerability.
These findings suggest that a healthy diet should be considered as a potential target for the prevention of depressive disorders. (5)
10. Chronic illnesses
Maida is highly acidic in nature. As per research, a diet high in acidic foods forces the body to pull calcium from bones to counter the extra acid. This in turn affects bone density.
Over-acidity is one of the major causes of chronic inflammation, and a major cause of arthritis and other chronic illnesses. It has also known be linked to headache and migraines.
Replacement for maida: I strongly believe that whole-wheat flour is the most ideal replacement for maida in every recipe. I would also suggest that as a next step, try experimenting with millets, quinoa, buckwheat, red rice, and other such nutritious grains as well.
Now, as promised, here is a simple recipe of whole-wheat jaggery cake that I got from my aunt:
Ingredients: 1. Whole wheat atta: 1 Cup 2. Milk powder: 1/2 Cup 3. Organic jaggery powder: 3/4 Cup 4. Milk: 1 Cup 5. Oil: 3/4 Cup 6. Vinegar: 1 Tbsp 7. Vanilla essence: 1 Tsp 8. Baking soda: 1 Tsp Preparation: 1. Mix all the dry ingredients together 2. In a different bowl, mix together milk, oil, and vanilla essence. 3. Add vinegar in the wet ingredients, give it a quick mix and immediately add to the dry ingredients. 4. Mix well and bake in a preheated convection oven at 180 deg C for about 45-50 minutes.
1. Whole-wheat Jaggery Cake
1. Whole wheat atta: 1 Cup
2. Milk powder: 1/2 Cup
3. Organic jaggery powder: 3/4 Cup
4. Milk: 1 Cup
5. Oil: 3/4 Cup
6. Vinegar: 1 Tbsp
7. Vanilla essence: 1 Tsp
8. Baking soda: 1 Tsp
1. Mix all the dry ingredients together
2. In a different bowl, mix together milk, oil, and vanilla essence.
3. Add vinegar in the wet ingredients, give it a quick mix and immediately add to the dry ingredients.
4. Mix well and bake in a preheated convection oven at 180 deg C for about 45-50 minutes.
Maida or refined flour is a zero nutrition ingredient whose only contribution is paving the way to a number of chronic diseases. So make a healthful choice and replace it with nutritious whole wheat flour.
- Whole- and refined-grain intakes are differentially associated with abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in healthy adults: the Framingham Heart Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2954448/
- Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC526387/
- Dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, and cancer risk: results from the EPIC-Italy study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09498-2
- A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/1/107/4633089
- Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/96D634CD33BD7B11F0C731BF73BA9CD3/S0007125000250903a.pdf/dietary_pattern_and_depressive_symptoms_in_middle_age.pdf
About the author: Priya Prakash, Co-Founder, Naturally Yours. Ms. Priya is the mother of two beautiful children and also the co-founder of Naturally Yours. She has over 10+ years of experience in the health food industry. Being a “Certified Nutrition Coach”, Ms. Priya is a strong believer in using nutritious and easy to use alternatives in our daily diet for a healthier life.