What is the difference between whole grain and whole wheat foods?

I've always thought they were the same. Then there's the 100% whole grain versus 100% whole wheat. Confused!

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A:

When it comes to the differences between whole grain products and whole wheat products, there may be some confusion among consumers. While there are many similarities between whole grain products and whole wheat products, there are a few differences that could be very important. Here are some examples.

One of the main differences between whole wheat and whole grain is the process that is used to prepare the grain flour. With whole-wheat flour, the grain has gone through a refining process that has removed some of the nutritional value from the end product. By contrast, whole-grain flour does not go through this refining process, and thus maintains the natural level of nutrients.

In appearance, whole wheat and whole grain products may look very similar. For example, it is very difficult to tell the difference between a whole grain cereal product and a similar product made from whole wheat. The difference is sometimes easier to taste. Whole grain will have a slightly richer flavor than whole wheat, although both are very pleasing, and more tasty and nutritious than bleached flour products.

Whole grain breads are also different from their whole wheat counterparts. Generally, whole wheat loaves will be lighter in texture, almost as light as a loaf of bread made with bleached flour. Whole grain loaves of bread will have a denser texture, and often are considered more filling. The additional nutrients and fiber content often make it possible to consume less bread and still feel satisfied at the end of the meal.

Whole grain bread may have health benefits that are particularly important to persons who struggle with blood glucose levels. For people who are in a prediabetic state or are managing Type 2 diabetes with diet, whole grain products may be a sensible source of complex carbohydrates. While containing as many carbohydrates as whole wheat or bleached bread, whole grain products tend to create less of a spike in blood glucose levels, and absorb into the system with greater ease. While this is not universally true for all persons dealing with blood glucose issues, choosing a slice of whole grain bread over other bread options has proven helpful in managing a balanced diet while still watching blood sugar levels.

Nutritional value
All breads are nutritious—some more so than others. The 2005 edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends enjoying five to ten ounces daily of bread, cereal, rice and pasta (depending on age, gender and activity level) – with half coming from whole grains. They are a major source of complex carbohydrates (starches), fiber, iron and B vitamins and are generally low in fat.

Keep in mind that serving sizes are equal to one ounce and therefore relatively small. One slice of bread weighing one-ounce is a serving, so a sandwich would provide two servings.

White bread
To compare, one slice of enriched white bread gets 76 percent of its calories from carbohydrates (mostly complex) and only 11 percent from fat. The rest, 13 percent, is from protein. White bread has .5 gram of soluble fiber per slice, which contributes to daily fiber needs of 25 to 38 grams.

Whole wheat bread
The nutritional content of whole wheat breads also varies between brands. An average slice of whole wheat bread gets 69 percent of its calories from carbohydrates and 15 percent from fat because the wheat germ in the whole wheat flour is about 10 percent fat. That leaves 16 percent contributed by protein.

The wheat germ contains protein in addition to fat and several minerals. However, the nutrient profile of whole wheat bread remains excellent. It has two grams of fiber, primarily insoluble. Foods containing insoluble fiber have been shown to help prevent colon cancer and possibly breast cancer. Almost a gram of iron per slice, a substantial amount of folic acid (17.5 micrograms), vitamin E, copper, vitamin B6 and the three major B vitamins make it a nutrient dense food.

The label should list first “whole wheat flour” or contain a combination of whole grain ingredients for it to be a whole grain food. When shopping for whole grain bread, remember that not all brown based bread is whole wheat. A brown color may be the effect of caramel coloring, which will be listed on the label. Its nutrient value is similar to white bread.

What's the difference between whole wheat and white bread?
Both breads are made from wheat flour. Whole wheat is composed of the entire kernel - the bran, germ and endosperm. White bread is milled from only the endosperm. Both whole wheat and white breads are high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat.

Whole wheat bread contains four times as much fiber as does white bread - 2 grams as compared to .5 gram. Other "non-nutritive compounds" included in the bran and germ are still under investigation for their contribution to the diet. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends 3 to 10 ounces of grain servings daily, with half those servings being whole-grains.

White bread is enriched with the four major B vitamins - niacin, thiamin, folic acid and riboflavin - and iron to equal or exceeded amounts of whole wheat flour. Fortification of bread with calcium is optional and effective January 1, 1998, all enriched grain flours must be fortified with folic acid. Folic acid has been shown to play a beneficial role in protecting against spina bifida. Some trace nutrients are also removed with the bran and germ.


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