Should You be Eating Whole Wheat or Whole Grain, and Why?
“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed,” as defined by the Whole Grains Council. For instance, regardless of how oats are rolled, cut, or ground during processing, the oat does not lose any of its nutritional content. The three fundamental parts of the kernel is the bran, germ, and endosperm. In order to be considered a whole grain, the food item must contain 100% of the original kernel.
Whole grain is processed to include the whole grain seed, whereas white flour uses only the less nutritious endosperm. By using all parts of the grain whole grain is more nutritious because it has higher levels of fiber, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, zinc, folic acid and chromium. The majority of which are lost when processing occurs to make white flour. Refining wheat creates fluffy flour that makes light, airy breads and pastries. But nutrition is compromised for the taste of the beloved refined grains. The process strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fiber.
The health benefits of switching from refined to whole grain foods are well established, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Based on this evidence, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans consume at least three servings of whole grain products daily, and the new U.S. national school lunch standards require that at least half of all grains be whole grain-rich. However, no single standard exists for defining any product as a “whole grain.”
Determining what food items are actually whole gain or whole wheat can be challenging in the grocery store. And then we ask the question: what is the difference between whole grain and whole wheat? The Whole Grains council describes the difference between whole grain and whole wheat as the same difference between a carrot and a vegetable?” We all know that all carrots are vegetables but not all vegetables are carrots. It’s similar with whole wheat and whole grain: Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat.
A meta-analysis of seven major studies showed that cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or the need for a procedure to bypass or open a clogged artery) was 21 percent less likely in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of whole-grain foods a day compared with those who ate less than 2 servings a week.
The whole grain stamp produced by the Whole Grain Council started to appear on store shelves in mid-2005. It recently received some criticism from the Harvard School of Public Health.
A common “Health Halo” is that often times people incorrectly assume that a product that is whole wheat is healthier than one that is not, in every sense. Health claims, in this case whole wheat, on a product can produce a “halo effect” where consumers reported beneficial effects from the product beyond those specifically mentioned in the claim. One healthy attribute leads consumers to assume that foods offer other healthy but unclaimed attributes.
The Harvard School of Public Health “found that grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp, one of the most widely-used front-of-package symbols, were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but also contained significantly more sugar and calories compared to products without the Stamp”.
This stamp only relays information about a food items whole grain content. It is not surprising that food producers have to add extra sugars to whole wheat products in order to achieve the taste that consumers demand. Through this study Harvard simply found that just because has one good quality doesn’t equate to the entity of that product being healthy.
The key thing to remember is it must be 100%. At the grocery store, check labels and chose items made with 100 percent whole wheat — meaning it is made with only whole-wheat flour, whereas breads and other things labeled simply “whole-wheat” might contain a mix of whole wheat and white flours. Also as Harvard showed us, be conscious of the sugar content as well.