29 JULY 1972, Page 25

Staff & life

From Mr Neil Stamford Painter, MS, FRCS, FACS, Sir: I read the article entitled 'Staff of Life' by Bernard Dixon July 15, and was amazed that it should appear under the heading of Science. It appears that his intention was to label bread made from stoneground wholemeal flour as something that was " gritty " and which had "a grotty colour" whatever this may mean. Having accused those who advocate the use of wholemeal flour of "evangelism " he claims that the "gritty grotty bread men" can produce no evidence that white flour is harmful and that they merely yearn for "an illusory wholesomeness of bygone days." A century ago coronary thrombosis, arterial disease, diabetes, peptic ulcer, appendicitis, constipation and cancer of the colon were all rare, or less common, and all these diseases began to become a clinical problem around the turn of the century. For instance, diverticular disease of the colon has become the commonest disease of the large bowel within seventy years. All these conditions are rare in rural Africa and Asia to this day, but they become common in communities that change to a Western diet. Historical and epidemiological studies show that, regardless of ethnic origin, the change to a diet containing refined flour and sugar causes these diseases to appear within a generation.

The removal of cereal fibre, namely bran, from flour was followed by the appearance of appendicitis and diverticulitis, and it has been shown recently that a high fibre/low sugar diet, to which unprocessed bran had been added, relieves the abdominal pain and the dyseptic symptoms of diverticular disease and will even abolish the severe colic that formerly could only be cured by surgery. All of the additives, which Mr Dixon claims make white bread superior to the wholemeal, can be obtained from other foods. Even the millers would not claim that they know all the constituents of whole wheat or how can they claim to replace what has been removed in roller milling? Certainly, the physical characteristics of roller milled flour are different from those of stoneground flour, which suggests that roller milling alters these characteristics in a manner that stonegrinding does not. Bran is only " indigestible " in the sense that it resists digestion, but this does not mean that it causes indigestion. In fact, the replacement of bran in the diet nearly always cures constipation and will abolish over 80 per cent of the dyspeptic symptoms which accompany constipation and diverticular disease.

It would be a pity of your article convinced anyone that white flour contained all the ingredients necessary for their health.

Neil Stamford Painter The Manor House Hospital, Golders Green, NW11.