Whole wheat and whole grain are linked to better health and reduced chances of heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
Often you’ll notice some products are labeled ‘whole grain’ while others have ‘whole wheat’ in their ingredient list. It can be challenging to distinguish the two. While both are nutritious, they’re not the same. Regularly you’ll hear about these two in any discussion on wholesome foods. Understanding each of them is important. So, what are the differences between whole grain and whole wheat?
What are whole grains?
Every grain starts as a whole. Inside the inedible shell, there is a seed made up of three parts; endosperm, germ, and bran. The germ and bran have antioxidants, fiber, protein, healthy fats, and B vitamins. Additionally, they contain minerals like iron and folate. The endosperm provides energy for the plant in the form of starchy carbohydrates. Combination of nutrients in these layers makes whole grain a powerhouse of illness prevention. Greater intake of whole grains helps to lower risks of certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as to improve your GI tract health.
Whole grains are often incorporated into foods like bread or breakfast cereals. That’s where the confusion of whole wheat and whole grain comes in.
Difference between whole grain and whole wheat
Whole grain is obtained from the entire grain kernel. Whole wheat is a type of wheat grain, but not each whole grain is whole wheat. For understanding, let’s think of bread. Whole grain bread is made from any whole grain kernel. Whole wheat bread is made from only whole wheat kernels.
What about multigrain?
With the understanding of the differences between whole grain and whole wheat, there is another term you should also get familiar with-multigrain. A multigrain product means at least one kind of grain is used, but it does not necessarily mean grains used are whole grains. If you spot a multigrain item labeled ‘made with whole grain”, it can be possible that the product contains a very small amount of whole grains. This labeling can be deceptive for buyers determined to incorporate healthier whole grains into their diet. Always check the ingredient list to know item’s content.
How to tell if packaged foods have whole grains
Products like frozen crackers or waffles are categorized as a whole when all three parts are present; endosperm, germ, and bran. ‘Refined grains’ are the ones missing any of these parts. For example, most white flour only has starch endosperm and lacks the remaining parts. ‘Enriched grains’ are refined grains, and some nutrients like iron are added. If you want a healthier product and well filled with whole grains, select the one with whole grains listed as one of the top two ingredients.
Guide to understand the labels
- Made with whole grain, the product is made with some whole grains.
- 100% whole grain-it has no refined flour.
- Whole grain stamp-if you see a golden icon stamp, it shows the product’s whole grain is at least eight grams in each serving. Stamps with 50% or 100% mean most food is whole grains.
- Multigrain has more than one type of grain, but the grains are whole all the time.
Examples of types of grains
Whole grains can be single foods like popcorns or brown rice. Or, it can be ingredients in products like whole wheat flour in bread or buckwheat in pancakes. Other whole grains include;
Here, nutrients destroyed during processing are replaced. Most enriched grains are usually fortified. Fortifying is when nutrients not naturally present in foods are added to a product. Often refined grains are enriched. Enriched grains are fortified with other minerals and vitamins like iron. Manufacturers may or may not fortify whole grains.
Refined lack bran and germ. That’s why compared to other types of grains, and they have a finer texture and an extended shelf life. However, the refining process removes most nutrients, even fiber. Refined grains include white varieties of rice and bread. Many cereals, bread, crackers, pastries, and desserts are also made with refined grains.
If you’re only consuming whole grains, you may have to pay extra attention to foods that’ll give you enough folic acid. Most refined grains are fortified, but whole grains are mostly not fortified with folic acid. Look for whole grains containing folic acid, such as ready-to-eat cereals, to stay healthier. Consuming plenty of vegetables, legumes, and fruits will also help you have the right amounts of folate.
How can you enjoy whole grains and boost your health?
- Replace white rice with healthier choices like wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, or barley
- Add barley in stews, soups, salads, and casseroles
- Make your sandwich with whole grain rolls
- Swap your white flour tortillas with whole wheat versions
- Instead of dry bread crumbs, use crushed whole wheat bran in your recipes
Is it safe to eat wheat?
Wheat is healthy. Eating both unrefined and refined wheat is harmless to your health. But whole wheat is healthier as all its nutrients remain untouched. Benefits of eating wheat include;
- High in fiber and nutrients like iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and manganese
- Loaded with antioxidants like ferulic acid, phytic acid, and sulfur compounds
- Contain plant compounds like polyphenol and stanols, which assist in preventing diseases
- Decreases risks of stroke and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity
- Fiber in wheat aids in digestion
- Reduces chronic inflammation
How much whole grain in a day?
No matter the benefits, exceeding the recommended amount of a certain food is never healthy. Experts advise you to consume six servings of grain daily, and at least three should be whole grain.
Whole grains have 100% of the original seed. All three parts, bran, germ, and endosperm, should be present for something to qualify as a whole grain. Whole wheat is grouped under whole grain. Eating food rich in whole grains will protect you from many diseases. Your body will gain many essential nutrients. Ensure you’re keen on the ingredient list because not all products labeled ‘whole grains’ truly contain whole grain.