Multi-grain vs. Whole-grain

Whole grains are great for you. But things aren’t always what they appear.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
3-minute read
Episode #5

Whole Grain Imposters

So, how do you know whether a grain is whole or not?

With foods like oatmeal, bulgur wheat, brown rice, popcorn, or quinoa, you’re always getting the whole grain—and these are all great foods to include in your diet. It gets trickier with foods like breads, crackers, pasta, and tortillas, where the grains have been milled into flour. Then, it can be a little harder to tell whether you’re dealing with whole grains or not.

It doesn’t make it any easier that manufacturers go out of their way to make their products look and sound healthy, even when they aren’t. They use molasses or food coloring to mimic the darker color of whole-grains. They add ingredients that create a dense, chewy texture. They use virtuous-sounding words like “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” or “multi-grain.” None of these things are a reliable indicator of whole grains.

A “multi-grain” bread, for example, could be made out of several types of refined grains. Or, more likely, it’s made with lots of refined white flour and small amounts of other whole grains. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that those multi-grain doughnuts are probably not the nutritional powerhouses you’ve been telling yourself they are.

Examine the Ingredient List

Your best bet is to ignore most of the words on the package and zero in on the ingredient list. Look specifically for the word “whole” right before name of the grain, as in, “whole wheat,” or “whole oats.” Keep in mind that the ingredients listed first are the ones that make up the bulk of the product.

For advice on how to get better results when baking with whole grains, check out this handy Quick Tip of mine. I also have a Quick Tip to get more nutriitional value from grains.

Now that you know how to tell an authentic whole grain from an imposter, remember to aim for at least three servings a day. If you’d like to learn more about whole grains and how they keep you healthy, see the show notes for a link to a really good fact sheet from the International Food Information Council.

Click here to get my delicious recipe for quinoa slad with pecans and cranberries, and head over here for a way to turn leftover bread into gourmet crostini.

These tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s just right for you.

If you have a nutrition question, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438. Or, you can connect with me and other Nutrition Diva fans on Facebook.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Fact sheet on health benefits of eating whole grains

My recipe for Quinoa Salad with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

The Nutrition Diva Page on Facebook

Oatmeal image courtesy of Shutterstock