I've been on a health kick recently, and part of that has been incorporating more whole grains in my diet. But the labeling of whole grains can be a little confusing, especially because I still don't really know the difference between whole grain and whole wheat. What does it mean to be whole wheat vs. whole grain, and is one better than the other? And even once I delude myself into thinking I can tell whole grain breads from the whole wheat ones, I'm faced with a slew of multigrain options—and what is the difference between multigrain and whole grain, anyway?
Let's put this bread debate to bed once and for all, starting with the difference between whole wheat and whole grain. A grain is considered whole when it has all three of its original parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. That's according to the Whole Grains Council, an industry advocacy group. So if you're eating something that's labeled "whole grain," you're eating a product made with every part of the kernel. Whole wheat, then, is a type of whole grain. But not all whole grains are wheat; other examples of whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, and even popcorn. To quote the experts at the Whole Grains Council, "Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat."
Not all multigrains are whole grains, either. In fact, a lot, if not most, multigrains aren't whole grains. As the name suggests, a multigrain is made with multiple types of grains—but none of the grains included have to be whole grains. All of the grains in multigrain bread could have been stripped of the bran or the germ that gives whole grains their nutrients. And this is why whole grains are healthier than multigrains. Whole grains are high in fiber, and eating a diet that's high in fiber can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. If you're eating multigrains, you're not guaranteed to get those same benefits.
To confirm that you're buying and eating whole grains, even if you prefer eating multigrain bread, check the ingredients label. You want to see the word whole in front of the type of grain, and, as Megan Gordon writes for The Kitchn, it should be high up on the list, meaning it makes up a higher percentage of the total ingredients. That way you're getting the most of the health benefits from your bread (because, yes, carbs can be healthy no matter what some people might try to make you believe).