Rhonda’s Cooking


Confused about Whole Grain vs Whole Wheat?

Posted by rhondascooking on May 31, 2009

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:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Buckwheat*
  • Rye
  • Quinoa*
  • Millet
  • Amaranth*
  • Sorghum
  • Teff

*not real grasses, considered as pseudocereals

The entire (whole) edible parts of the grain include the following2:

  1. Bran:  the outer layers of the grain that supplies antioxidants, B vitamins, trace minerals, and dietary fiber.
  2. Endosperm: the inner part of the grain with most of the proteins and carbohydrates and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


13 Responses to “Confused about Whole Grain vs Whole Wheat?”

  1. Deon said

    So a person with an Autoimmune which one of these grains is best in digesting? and does not cause inflammation?

    • Hi, Deon, thanks for your question. However, there’s is not just 1 simple answer. There are over 80 different types of autoimmune diseases (or disorders). These diseases can affect any organ or body system in a variety of ways such as inflammation in the joints if you have rheumatoid arthritis, etc. So, if you have a specific autoimmune disease/disorder that you would like to know which grain is best to eat, let me know which one.

  2. Carrie said

    So we have one of the 9-grain breads and I believe it said one slice had 3g fiber, is that good?

    • Hi, Carrie, typically 100% whole grain breads have at least 8g or more dietary fiber, depending on the brand. So, if you see 3g, then make sure you check out the ingredients list.

  3. louisa said

    I have rheumatoid arthritis and bowel sensitivity(gluten intolerance. I know I cannot take whole wheat, but how about whole grain.

    • Hi, Louisa, the only whole grain that I recommend for those of us with rheumatoid arthritis and bowel sensitivity is gluten free whole grains. I have seen major improvements in my joints when I stick to the gluten-free, vegan and low-glycemic lifestyle. It was not an easy transition, but over time it gets easier and easier! Keep me posted on things.

  4. Natasha Carroll said

    Thank you!

    This post was very helpful. I’m currently doing 3km run three days a week for weight loss. I have 7kgs left to get to my goal weight. I know that diet plays a huge role in eliminating the last of fat stores.

    My questions was: Is whole grain better than whole wheat? And your answer was whole wheat is a sub-type of whole grain.

    So long as we choose cereals that dont have added sugar, the weight should just drop off.

    My next question: Is Whole Grain Maize and Soya Original Pronutro better than Originial Jungle Oats (not instant)?

    I look forward to your response!


    • Hi, Natasha, sorry for the delay. Thanks for reading my articles. Whole wheat is a whole grain, as long as the ingredients list does not have in parenthesis–“enriched with…”. So be on the lock out for that! So, select any whole grain that is WHOLE and not Enriched. In terms of maize or corn, there are other issues such as most of the corn today has pesticides or is GMO (genetically modified) or potentially exposed to cross contamination. So you really need to be aware. Corn is at the bottom of the list for a healthy whole grain because of the high sugar content and the fact that it is a potential inflammatory food. So choose wisely!

  5. Jason said

    I’m confused still. I just bought a package of Nature’s Own 100% Whole Grain bread from Walmart. The first ingredient says Whole wheat flour. But the package also says is has 12 grams of whole grain. You say don’t buy wheat flour, but what does “whole wheat flour” mean? Is that still just essentially white flour bread with grains thrown on top?

    • Hi, Jason, I am sorry for the delay, I’ve been traveling and teaching classes and I got a little behind. Thank you so much for the question. Purchasing bread that has the word, “whole”, in front of the grain such as wheat, means that it has all of its healthy edible parts (the bran, endosperm, and germ), nothing has been removed. The grain was harvested, ground to a flour, and then made into bread. On the other side, when you don’t see the word “whole”, in front of the grain, in most cases it means that the bran and germ were removed, leaving the endosperm that is used to make the bread. So, the answer to your last question is no. Whole wheat flour is not white flour bread with grains thrown on top. I hope that this was helpful for you. Let me know if you have further questions.

  6. Michele said

    Hi, Thank you for being so clear. I have read a few articles on this question and leave them feeling more confused which is not the case here! When I was pregnant with my now 2 yr old I found out I had gestational diabetes. I’m normal weight but my grandfather had diabetes so I guess I’m at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. I’m thinking I misunderstood the dietitian when she said 100% whole wheat and not just wheat or whole grain. I have stayed away from all whole grain products which I now am thinking I would have been okay with 100% whole grain as well. (I was a little devastated when I first found out and overwhelmed). I was wondering if there is a specific grain that is better than the others for preventing and/or maintaining diabetes?

    • Hi, Michele, thanks for replying back. If you don’t have Celiac Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis or any other intolerances to gluten/wheat, then as long as you eat 100% whole grains, you are doing great. HOWEVER, maintaining proper glucose levels to manage diabetes takes a little more bit of focus. Whole grains are good for healthy eating, however, depending on whether you have diabetes or you are pre-diabetic, will determine how much carbohydrates you should eat. Now carbohydrates not only include whole grains, but also fruit, beans, vegetables, and dairy! So to prevent diabetes, it’s generally recommended that you stay between 150g – 248g of carbohydrates. Are you still diabetic? If so, what did your doctor recommend?

      • Michele said

        No other intolerance’s to wheat, I’m lactose intolerant and can only do minimal cheese with lactase supplements at this point, lactose free yogurt. I don’t still have the diabetes. They checked my A1C post pregnancy which was fine. I saw 2 different Endocrinologists during the pregnancy and the first one made the statement that I would definitely be diabetic in the future. I did not see him again as he didn’t even try to tell me how to prevent getting it or explain why he felt that way or anything. I don’t know if he just felt my BMI was too high or if he figured since my BMI was fine and still had it then it was going to happen. He just seemed cruel. The 2nd one was much nicer. I have just been on my own trying to figure it all out. I try to exercise more but it can be difficult now to jog with a heavier child in the jogging stroller. I’m more active chasing my son around though. I just have been trying to keep my portions correct, sticking to 100% in titles, etc. I was not a big sugar eater pre-pregnancy but developed a bad craving for cookies during and since. I try to fight that too! During pregnancy I could not do more than 15g at breakfast and 30g for meals or my numbers would be too high. (195g for the day with snacks) Should I assume I need to stick to the same amount because I really felt carb deprived, or is it okay to do more so long as I stick to the right carbs? Absolutely no doctor recommendations.

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