What's Better: Whole Wheat or Whole Grain?

January 17, 2013 | Kait Fortunato

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Being a healthy consumer is becoming increasing difficult, because the food industry keeps pushing more products as "nutritious," "low-fat," "heart healthy," and "all-natural." Take bread for example. It's tough to determine which is better for you with so many labels littered with words like "white wheat," "whole wheat," "multigrain" and "whole grain." (See What Makes Food Unhealthy?)

As a rule of thumb, wheat bread is better than white bread because it's a lower glycemic food item. This means it breaks down more slowly, keeping your blood sugars stable for longer lasting energy. Foods made with whole wheat flour also have more fiber, contributing to digestive health and satiety.

All whole grains are good sources of B vitamins and iron. "Whole wheat" means the bread is made from the entire wheat kernel, whereas "whole grain" means it could be made from any whole grain kernel, such as barley, oats or spelt. Different grains have different nutritional profiles, but all whole grains are nutrient dense, with plenty of complex carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What you want to be careful about are foods labeled plain "wheat" or "multigrain." If you don't see the word "whole" on the package, it means the bread might not be made from the entire kernel. If it's not made with the whole grain, it means that part of the endosperm has been removed, depleting the bread of some of its vitamin content. "Multigrain" can be confusing, because it does not always mean the "whole" part of the grain seed is used, only that it contains more than one grain.

Another good thing to look for is whether the first ingredient on the package says "whole grain," "whole wheat" or "100-percent whole wheat." This means the item listed is the main ingredient in the bread.

(See Pick and Pass: Multigrain Pringles vs. Newman's Own Light Butter Popcorn.)

Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
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