By now, most healthy eaters know that classic white bread isn’t exactly the healthiest option on the grocery store shelf. But there are two options you’re bound to come across that sound similar but aren’t exactly the same: whole wheat and whole grain. They seem healthy-ish, right?
Don’t get it twisted, though. While whole wheat and whole grain certainly have a lot in common, there are important differences between the two that can impact the nutritional profile of your avocado toast. Here, registered dietitian Chelsey Amer, RD, explains the difference and her verdict on which one is really healthiest.
Whole wheat vs. whole grain: What’s the difference anyways?
“The difference between ‘whole grain’ and ‘whole wheat’ is that whole grain can be from any grain—such as barley, oats, sorghum, buckwheat, or wheat—while whole wheat means it’s only made from wheat,” Amer says. Basically, all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grains are whole wheat.
You won’t just see the terms popping up in the bread aisle either. Whole grains and whole wheat are both used to make other foods such as pasta, tortillas, frozen waffles, and baking flour.
Speaking of bread…why are people so freaked out about gluten?
Regardless of which label you reach for, you’re going to reap some major nutritional benefits. “Whole grain foods contain the entire grain—the germ, endosperm, and brain—which boosts your intake of fiber, healthy fats, and additional minerals,” Amer says, including iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. “Not only will you stay full for a long period of time from the fiber and healthy fats, but consuming sufficient fiber in your diet is essential to reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes,” Amer adds.
As for whole wheat, Amer says that it too is made from the germ, bran, and endosperm (just specifically of the wheat plant), which puts the health benefits above foods made with white flour (so, your white breads and plain pastas), which have just the endosperm. Like whole grains, whole wheat foods are a good source of fiber, iron, and vitamin B6. The fiber content means that just like with whole grain foods, consuming whole wheat foods regularly as part of a healthy diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including diabetes.
Okay, so which one is healthier?
It bears repeating that whole grain foods and whole wheat foods both have health benefits. That said, Amer has some important label-reading advice to pay attention to when it comes to choosing truly the healthiest option. “As long as the ingredient list of your bread starts with 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat, you’ll receive the health benefits of consuming whole grains,” she says. The key is making sure it’s listed first.
Amer also stresses the importance of eying all the ingredients on the label, especially with bread, which can have a pretty lengthy list. “It’s easy for added sugar to sneak into your bread.” she says. “Be on the lookout for added sugars by checking the nutritional facts panel. Keep it under two grams per slice.”
These is one battle where both contenders come out as winners, so you can stop freaking out in the bread aisle now. Save your food confusion for, well, the next aisle—when you’re debating reaching for brown or white rice.