At least once a week someone asks me about the differences between whole grain and whole wheat. Because I kept getting that question, I thought that maybe I should just share the answer with all of you just in case you were wondering the same thing. First of all, grains (also known as cereal grains) are grasses that are cultivated for the edible components of their fruit seeds1. A whole grain is the entire edible part of any grains. A list of grains includes the following:
*not real grasses, considered as pseudocereals
The entire (whole) edible parts of the grain include the following2:
- Bran: the outer layers of the grain that supplies antioxidants, B vitamins, trace minerals, and dietary fiber.
- Endosperm: the inner part of the grain with most of the proteins and carbohydrates and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
- Germ: the small but very important part; it sprouts, generating a new plant. It is rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, antioxidants and essential fats.
As you see, most of the fiber and vitamins/minerals come from the bran and the germ parts of the grain. When the grain is milled, the germ and the bran are stripped away leaving behind the endosperm, which is how white flour is produced. Because this flour does not contain any vitamins or minerals, the government has required that iron and B-vitamins are added back in to the flour, hence the name “enriched wheat.”
So how do you select which bread to choose? Here are some tips:
- Look at the ingredients label on the product. Look for the words “whole grain”, “whole wheat”, or “100% whole grain.” You would want to purchase this product.
- If you see the word “enriched” or “wheat flour” do not purchase. Wheat flour is another name for white flour! Do NOT be fooled by the words on the package—it’s just advertising!
- Beware of breads labeled as “7-grain” or “multigrain” as these may or may not be true whole grains; it could just be a marketing ploy. The only way to know for sure is to read the ingredients label.
- Pay attention to the amount of dietary fiber on the label; if the product is a whole grain, it will be high in dietary fiber.
So the bottom line to this article, in terms of nutrition, both “whole grain” and “whole wheat” are great for you! In fact, whole wheat is a type of a whole grain.
1“Cereal.” Wikipedia. May 23, 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cereal>. May 28, 2009.
2Duyff, Roberta Larson. Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.