Difference Between Multigrain and Whole Wheat

Elise Deming, RDN
Raw spelt flour

Grain products make up a large portion of the American diet. Because of this, it is important to be very selective about the grains included in meals. Grains can either make or break your health. Two confusing terms in food manufacturing are multi-grain and whole wheat

Multigrain Versus Whole Wheat

Multigrain means the food contains more than one grain while whole wheat is a type of whole grain. While whole grain contains every part of the grain, multi-grain may only contain one or two parts of the grain as opposed to the entire grain. Therefore, multigrain does not necessarily contain whole wheat, and it may not be as nutritious as whole wheat.

Whole grains, including whole wheat, contain the entire, original plant. That means they have the bran, germ, and endosperm, all of which make the grain a nutritious choice because each part of the grain contains different essential nutrients.

  • The outer layer, or the bran, is full of B-vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
  • The largest part of the grain is the endosperm, which is made mostly of carbohydrate and some protein. In refined grains, this is typically the only part of the grain used.
  • The last, and smallest part of the grain is the germ which consists of protein, healthy fats, B-vitamins, and minerals.
  • When the bran, germ, and endosperm are eaten together as a whole grain, they are nutritious and filling because the body digests it slower due to the protein and healthy fat content.

On the Nutrition Label

Whole grains and multigrain are listed differently on the nutrition label.

Multigrain

For multi-grain, the package will say multigrain, or it will list multiple grains in the ingredients. For example, ingredients might be listed as follows: enriched wheat flour, water, modified wheat starch, wheat gluten, cellulose fiber, farina, polydextrose, yeast, preservatives, whey, etc. In this case, the enriched wheat flour (notice it's not whole wheat flour) and other wheat ingredients along with the farina show it has more than one grain, so it can be called multigrain, although it is not necessarily whole grain.

Labeling a food multigrain may be misleading because it could contain enriched wheat flour as the first ingredient. Enriched wheat flour goes through the milling process and is stripped of the bran and germ, losing fiber, protein, fat, and many nutrients. Enriched wheat flour contains 75 percent white flour and just 25 percent wheat flour. It is then enriched with added nutrients. Consumption of foods high in white flour can contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.

Whole Wheat

The number one rule when looking for whole wheat is look at the ingredient list. Just because the package says whole wheat on the front doesn't mean it actually is whole wheat. If it truly contains whole wheat, the first ingredient will be "100% whole wheat" for wheat-based products. For example, the ingredients list for a whole wheat food might read: 100% whole wheat flour, water, wheat flour, sugar, wheat gluten, wheat bran, oat fiber, sea salt, etc. Note that in the case of this ingredients list, because it contains wheat and oats, it is also multigrain - so something containing this list of ingredients would be both whole wheat and multigrain. A great example of a whole wheat bread is Ezekiel 4:9 Whole Wheat Bread.

Other Whole Grain Sources

Other whole grains include amaranth, corn, barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, wild rice, sorghum, teff, rice, millet, triticale, and rye.

Here is a chart of common whole grains and their nutritional content for 3/4 - 1 cup of each cooked grain:

Calories(kcal) Carbohydrate(g) Fat(g) Fiber(g) Protein(g)
Brown Rice 165 31.3 1.4 1.6 3.3
Corn 163 34.6 1.6 3.3 3.6
Hard White Wheat 154 36.1 0.8 5.5 5.1
Red Wheat 147 32 0.7 5.5 5.6
Barley 159 33 1 7.8 5.6
Buckwheat 154 33 1.5 4.5 5.9
Oats 175 29.8 3.1 4.8 7.6
Quinoa 166 28.8 2.7 3.1 6.3

Which Is Best for You?

If you are adding grains to your diet, whole wheat and other whole grains are what to reach for. These grains contain all three essential parts of the plant. Whole grains:

  • Are more nutritions
  • Keep you full longer
  • Digest more slowly
  • Assist in digestion and regularity
  • Can help lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, and colorectal cancer.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommends eating at least 3 ounces of whole grains every day, which can come from the grains listed above. It's okay to eat multigrain products as well. Just read labels to ensure the food is made with multiple whole grains. So if a multigrain food also contains whole grains, it's much more likely to be nutritious than one is labeled multigrain but contains no whole grains.

The Informed Consumer

A huge part of eating healthy is being a conscious consumer. Food companies can be very tricky with appealing and healthy sounding words like enriched and multigrain. When it comes to grains, the healthiest on the market are sources of whole grains, such as whole wheat.

Difference Between Multigrain and Whole Wheat