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Whole Grain vs. Whole Wheat

By eHealthIQ
Reviewed: August 08, 2013

Sometimes the health qualities of whole grain versus those of whole wheat aren’t very clear. Recent interest in and movement toward healthier lifestyles, however, have upped the ante in regards to what we eat. As a result, clearer definitions are emerging. Simply put, “whole wheat bread” refers to a bread made with one specific grain; “whole grain bread” refers to a bread made with any combination of grains. But which is better for your health?

According to the Whole Grains Council, the U.S. dietary guidelines for grains recommends that a healthy adult should enjoy anywhere from three to six servings of unrefined, whole grains per day. If enjoying a product that includes a mix of refined and whole grains, it is recommended that it be at least 50% of the total weight as a whole grain, or 8 grams per ounce.

So, what makes a whole grain superior in nutrition to whole wheat?

For a grain to maintain its healthy properties, it must include the entire kernel: bran, endosperm, and germ. These three nutrient-rich elements contain the valuable vitamins and fiber content needed to sustain energy in the body. These elements are what make whole grain breads and cereals more substantial and filling in smaller amounts than their more refined counterparts.

Refining grains to make them smaller and therefor easier to process strips the grain of these key elements. Though it has long been recognized as being healthier than white flour, whole wheat flour still goes through a refining process to make it lighter and easier to handle, a process in which much of its core nutrients are lost. In the end, its nutritional value can be closer to white bread than a whole grain flour.

When shopping for the healthiest option, look for a higher percentage of fiber (anywhere from 2.5% to 5%). The ingredients in the bread or cereal could include one or more of these whole grains: oats or oatmeal, whole rye, whole-grain corn or barley, buckwheat (kasha), millet, popcorn, quinoa, brown or white rice, and whole rye. Whole wheat is sometimes listed as wheat berries, cracked wheat or bulgur.

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