What’s the difference between whole wheat and whole grain?

Consumers who think they’re making a healthier choice when they opt to purchase whole wheat bread and products over white bread and refined flours may be surprised to learn that they may be falling victim to persistent confusion about the differences between whole wheat and whole grain breads and products.

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Consumers who think they’re making a healthier choice when they opt to purchase whole wheat products over white bread and products made with refined flours may be surprised to learn that they may be falling victim to the persistent confusion about the differences between whole wheat and whole grain breads and products. 

This confusion, reports The Vancouver Sun, may have something to do with Health Canada’s seeming reluctance to make the distinctions clear to Canadians. 

Though Health Canada identified the fuzzy terminology as a problem way back in 2007, the department has yet to make changes. More importantly, reports The Sun, Health Canada now appears to have no plans to address the issue anytime soon. 

Health Canada gave a statement to Postmedia News, claiming it had been “exploring the idea of changing the standard for whole wheat flour to help reduce consumer confusion between whole wheat and whole grain products,” but that there has of yet been no formal proposal to see it put into place. 

What is the difference between “whole wheat” and “whole grain” and how do those differences relate to overall health? 

Products labeled whole wheat aren’t as “whole” as consumers may believe. In fact, whole wheat flour is still refined, undergoing a process in which a significant portion of the germ and the bran are removed. The result is a loss in vitamins, minerals and fibre (though whole wheat does contain more fibre than white flour.) By contrast, whole grains include all aspects of the kernel, including the bran and the germ, elements that happen to be the healthiest in grains. 

Understanding the difference between the two designations can have an affect on health. Consumption of whole grains is associated positively with a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. 

Canada’s Food Guide advises people try and make at least half of their daily grain choices whole grains.  To ensure you’re eating whole grains, look for the term in the ingredient list of your purchases.