Don't confuse whole grain with multi grain -- they're not the same thing. One refers to the milling process, or the lack thereof, while the other simply notes that more than one type of grain is included in the bread. That said, you can have bread that is both whole and multi grain. The problem is that many brands of bread labeled "multi-grain" want to trick you into thinking their bread is better for you than it actually is. They expect you to confuse these two terms -- but you know better.
Whole-grain bread may contain whole wheat, spelt, rye, oats or an assortment of other healthy, unrefined grains. The difference between whole and refined grains is the milling process. To make white flour, manufacturers remove the bran and germ from the grain, leaving only the inner kernel. Whole grains, however, have all three components. This is important, as the bran and germ are packed with nutritional goodness. They have fiber, minerals, vitamins and unique nutrients that scientists are still investigating.
You may have seen breads with up to 11 different grains in them, which can be more than a little intimidating if you're not sure how to decipher the label. A wide assortment of grains is a good thing -- if they're whole. If the first ingredient on the package is enriched wheat flour or white flour, you've found a nutrition fraud. That loaf may present itself as health food with a dazzling array of grains, but at its core, it's just another kind of refined carb, such as white bread.
Whole Grain Health
So why do you need all parts of the grain? Although science hasn't fully cracked the whole grain code, the high fiber content is a pretty big deal. Low-fiber diets are linked to diabetes, digestive cancers and cardiovascular illnesses. Fiber softens your stool, warding off constipation. Fiber is so important for digestion that once people started milling grains, a condition called diverticulosis started cropping up. Sufferers have small sacs that bulge out from the colon and catch food bits. Because of this, they can lead to bloating and sometimes become infected. Diverticulosis affects about half of all Americans over 60 today.
If the thought of giving up your favorite multi-grain bread makes you shudder, take heart; even if it's predominantly white flour, you can fit it into your diet as long as you get whole grains from other sources. USDA guidelines recommend making at least half of your grains whole. Besides bread, you can get your whole grains from pasta, waffles, rice dishes, grain salads and more.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.