Understanding the Nutritional Difference Between Whole-Wheat, Whole-Grain, and Multi-Grain

Since 2007 The Canadian Food Guide (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php) has recommended that adults have between 6 and 8 servings per day of grain products and that at least half of your grain products be whole grain. But, when we go grocery shopping what does this mean. When the packaging says multi-grain or whole-wheat, does that mean the same thing as whole-grain? Whole-grains are an important source of fibre, are low in fat and contain vitamins and minerals. They have been linked to lowering the risk of certain types of cancer (bowel) and other health disease such as cardiovascular disease. So when we go to the grocery store it is important to know that what we are buying is delivering the nutrition and health protective properties that we are expecting.

What Does Whole-Grain Mean

Whole-grains are made up of three parts:

1. The bran– multilayered outer skin of the kernel;

2. The germ -contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals and healthy polyunsaturated fats;

3. The endosperm– contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and a small amount of nutrients

Whole-grains are nutritionally far superior to refined grains such as white flour that has had the germ and bran removed and, as a result, the lost of much of its fibre, vitamins and minerals.

At the Grocery Store

When we walk down the cereal, bread and snack isle of our favourite grocery store we are inundated with product labels bestowing the virtues of being made with whole grains, whole wheat or being multi grain. Unfortunately, many products making these claims contain a significant amount of refined flour.

Whole Grain Products

Canada, which is alone in the world with this regulation, states that up to 5 % of the wheat kernel (about 70% of the germ where the majority of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and healthy fat are found) can be removed and the flour can still be called whole grain. To complicate matter further, many “whole grain” products contain only a small amount per serving and as a result you would have to eat a substantial amount to get a proper serving of whole grains (one serving of whole grain is 16 grams).

Multi Grain Products

Multi grain products simple means that it is made with more than one grain. For example, you could have completely refined wheat flour and completely refined white rye flour and the product can state that it is multi grain because it is made up of more than one type of grain.

What Should You Do

The most important thing you can do to ensure that you are buying what you intent on buying is read the label. Don’t trust the front of packages. Read the ingredient lists to see if the whole-grain flour is the first ingredient. Check the nutrition facts to ensure the product has at least a few grams of fibre per serving and that the product is not high in trans and saturated fats, salt (sodium), and sugar. You are best to eat whole grain bread, barley, brown and wild rice, oats and whole wheat pasta. Taking a little time to be a careful shopper can ensure that you are not being seduced into making unhealthy choices for you and your family.

For further information on how to read product labels quickly and effectively go to the following article on the Forever-Active web site;


Reference: Globe and Mail, Health and Fitness, August 6, 2012

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