Whole Grain vs. Whole Wheat | Tips For Selecting Bread

by Natalie on June 20, 2011

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, whole grains are cancer fighting foods.

Whole grains contain antioxidants, phenols, lignans and saponins. These specific substances have been linked to a lower cancer risk in research studies. Therefore, it is important that we consume the majority of our grains as whole.

What Is a Whole Grain Product?

To be considered a “whole grain” product, all 3 parts of the grain must be present:

  • the germ
  • the endosperm
  • the bran

*grain kernal photo from USDA.gov

The refining process removes the bran and germ, leaving behind the starchy endosperm. Most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber are lost with the removal of the germ and the bran. This leads to an “enriched” white flour because manufacturers will try to add back some of the lost nutrients.

Identifying Whole Grains in Bread

Identifying whole grain food products can be difficult. I have found this particularly true when it comes to selecting bread. I have seen the following terms on bread labels: “whole grain”, “100% wheat”, “made with whole grains”, and “wheat”. Unfortunately none of these terms can guarantee that you have a whole grain bread. So what’s a person to do??

The best thing to do is to ignore the marketing terms on the front of the package. Go directly to the ingredients list (usually on the back or the side of the package). Look at the first ingredient listed. It should say “whole wheat flour”.

If the bread is made with a flour from a different type of grain, the first ingredient listed should say “whole grain _____ flour”. For example, whole grain oat flour or whole grain spelt flour.

The following terms will indicate a bread made with refined (non-whole grain) flour:

  • flour
  • enriched flour
  • wheat flour
  • bread flour
  • enriched wheat flour.

It is possible for a bread to be made with several types of flour. The best bread choice would be made only with 100% whole wheat or whole grain flour. Avoid breads that list “enriched wheat flour” as a second or third ingredient.

Which is Better: Whole Grain or Whole Wheat Bread?

There is no “better” here…

The bottom line is that you want a bread made with whole grain flour. Whole wheat flour is a type of whole grain flour. Breads can be made with different types of flour but most often it is made with wheat flour. Use the methods above to select a bread made with whole grain flour and you can be sure that you are getting a whole grain product.

Usually a bread listed as “whole grain” will contain a variety of flours. Be wary, because all of them may not be whole grain. A refined white flour bread may also be listed as “whole grain” because it has a few whole grain pieces mixed into the dough. Just because a product is listed as “whole grain” it doesn’t mean it is. Do I need to say it again? Check the ingredients list!

Other Considerations

Try to find a bread with the least amount of additives. Look for one with the shortest ingredient list. Pay attention to the sugar content. Mostly all breads have sugar or honey added. It may be difficult to find one without sugar. Compare the sugar content on the ingredient label with other breads until you find the lowest. Also keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of amount present. The first ingredient listed will be present in the largest quantity. This can be especially helpful when deciphering sugar content.

Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post to learn even more about whole grains!

Tell me what you think. Leave a comment in the comments section below!

~Natalie

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bread photo by: Beckman’s Old World Bakery

Marilyn June 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

How much bread do you recommend for a person? Shouldn’t we avoid this carbohydrate, or eat it in moderation. I love toast!

Marilyn June 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Which bread do you like best?

Natalie June 21, 2011 at 10:23 am

Of course there is room for bread in your diet! However, it’s important that you select a good quality whole grain bread using the info I talked about above. When it comes to whole grains, variety is important. This means that you shouldn’t be getting all your whole grains from bread only. Different grains have different nutrients to offer and not to mention it adds variety to your taste buds! I think a slice or two of whole grain bread each day is fine. Its not necessary to eat bread but if you enjoy it, it’s can definitely be fit in. There are some days I eat bread and other days I don’t. On average I probably eat 4-5 slices a week. My favorite bread is whole-wheat sourdough from Trader Joes. I recently tried Food for Life ezekiel bread and really enjoyed it (also available at TJ’s).

Faith May 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Hi – I have healed myself of breast cancer. My holistic doc says to avoid grains at all cost – bread – even gluten free organic made with rice flour and pumpkin – even chia because of the carbs. He recommends only veges, fish, eggs, protein. I understand the dangers of sugar but I thought the right sort of grains were important. I am confused now. Ta, Faith

Natalie May 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hi Faith, I am happy to hear you are healed of breast cancer. That is wonderful news.

It is very difficult (nearly impossible), and not healthy to remove all the carbohydrates from your diet. Many healthy plant-based foods contain carbohydrates including beans, lentils, nuts, fruit, and whole grains. To remove all of these from the diet, would cause you to miss out on some very important nutrients. You are right in your thinking that some grains and carbohydrates are healthier than others. It is best to eat only whole grain products. Fruits like berries, peaches, plums, and apples won’t raise your blood sugar as much as tropical fruits like banana and pineapple.

Another reason to eat healthy carbohydrates is for the fiber. Fiber is extremely important for digestive health as well as breast cancer prevention.

It is wise to include small amounts of healthy carbohydrates into your diet.

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