Whole Grains Demystified [Bread miniseries part 2/4]

Wheat Parts

Welcome to part 2 of our miniseries. In part 1, we provided ground rules for choosing healthy bread.

When discussing bread, there tends to be a confusion around the terms whole grain and whole wheat. We’ll try to clear that up today.

What you need to know:

Wheat is just one type of grain. Others are oat, barley, spelt, kamut, rye, brown rice, and a few more. For making bread, wheat flour is the most popular and widely used grain. That is why you’ve heard and will continue to hear from us to look for 100% whole wheat when buying bread. (Obviously if you are gluten intolerant, you will seek and find the specialty breads from other flours. Use this tool to help.)

Whole grain wheat includes 3 parts – endosperm (about 80% of the grain kernel), germ, and bran. Regular wheat flour contains only the endosperm. It is finer then whole wheat flour and creates a more chewable bread. Unfortunately, it lacks in nutrients as most of them are found in the bran and and germ.

The term whole grain can refer to non wheat grains, but in many cases wheat is implied.

There are various naming tactics used to make a bread seem more nutritious than it really is. The following adjectives are NOT indicators of whole grains:

Enriched – the flour is getting back what was lost when it was stripped of its whole grain-ness.Here’s what is added (mandated by the government) – Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron.

Unbleached / bleached – indicates if the flour has been subjected to a whitening process or not. Bleached flour goes through more processing and chemicals, so you should prefer non-bleached flour. Whole grain breads are not bleached.

Multi-grain – simply means that several types of grains have been used. For example, wheat and rye instead of just wheat.

Organic – indicates how the wheat was grown, not if it was stripped of its nutrients. You can definitely have refined organic wheat.

Unbromated / unbrominated - In the past, many bakeries used potassium bromate as a dough conditioner to improve the rising of the dough and the texture of the bread. Unfortunately, it is a carcinogen. It is not often used these days, and if it is, should appear on the ingredient list, regardless of its use as an adjective describing the flour.

More: durum, semolina, fine, high protein, plain , refined, stone ground, untreated, un-enriched, pumpernickel

100% of any of the above – as in “100% refined wheat flour” (tricks the eye to think 100% whole wheat…)

Got it?

POP QUIZ, kids:

For each of the terms below please indicate if it is whole grain or not:

  1. organic unbleached unenriched wheat flour
  2. ground wheat flour
  3. 100% stone ground wheat flour
  4. organic heirloom wheat flour
  5. unbromated hard red spring wheat flour

Answer: NONE of the above are whole grains flours.

Here’s another manufacturer trick to look out for. Even if the product package boasts 100% Whole Wheat, you may be getting nutritionally shortchanged. You see, manufacturers can add bran and germ to an ingredient list that kicks off with enriched flour. As long as the proportion of endosperm, bran, and germ is equal to what one would find naturally in a whole grain, the package claim “100% Whole Wheat” is technically correct. That’s like buying a car that has been taken apart into a thousand pieces and put back together instead of just a new car from the dealership. Which would you prefer?

Confused yet?

There’s more.

An industry sponsored group called the Whole Grain Council has created a stamp that you may see on bread packages, depending if the manufacturer paid to be part of the program or not. Our advice – since not all products with whole grains have this marking, make the extra effort to read the ingredient list, regardless of the presence or not of the stamp.

What to do at the supermarket:

Whole grains are important because it is the bran and the germ that contain the fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants that service our bodies. Enriching flour adds back just a few of the lost nutrients, but not the fiber, and not hundreds of others.

When choosing bread – always read the ingredient list and compare it to the health claims or product name. Remember, it’s the ingredient list that counts, not some confusing healthy headline.

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  • http://twitter.com/Hungry_Runner Katie Rosenbrock

    Great post! I feel like I’m always reading ingredient labels on bread packages but never really knowing if something is ACTUALLY 100% whole grain…Now I know! Thanks!!

  • Peapod

    I love the daily tip posts. Thank you for this series on bread! For people like me who are just trying to figure out what is really healthy or not, this is great!

  • Jenn

    Do you have any suggestions for commercially available bread that you can recommend?

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