Whole Wheat? Whole Grain? Multigrain?

I often get asked: “what is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain bread? Are they the same thing? What about multigrain?”. 

Good questions.

To fully appreciate the differences we have to take a trip back to Grade 8 Biology class.  You may recall that the three parts of a grain include:

–           the bran – the multi-layered outer skin of the kernel

–          the germ – the embryo of the plant which will sprout into a new plant if fertilized

–          the endosperm – the starchy carbohydrate that provides nourishment to the germ

When wheat is processed into white flour both the germ and the bran are removed leaving only the starchy endosperm to be milled.  Under Canadian labelling regulations, to qualify for the “whole wheat” label up to 5% of the wheat kernel may be excluded. That doesn’t sound like much, but what it means is that flour producers are able to omit 70% of the germ. The germ of the wheat berry is the source of the majority of the grain’s nutrients including iron, potassium, B-vitamins and vitamin E. It also contains healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are problematic for flour producers. The fats can turn the wheat rancid; therefore, eliminating up to 70% of the germ will extend shelf life of these whole wheat products.

The term “whole grain”, however, denotes a product that has been made with all 3 parts of the kernel: the germ, the endosperm and the bran.  The producers have not removed the nutritious germ or the fibrous bran.

Products labelled as “multigrain” may not necessarily contain all three parts of the grain. Multigrain simply means there is more than one type of grain in the product, for example, wheat and rye. However, those two (or more) grains may in fact be completely refined and only include the endosperm with no germ or bran in sight.

In order to ensure you are getting the entire grain in your favourite loaf look for the words “whole grain” before the specific type of grain is mentioned, for example, “whole grain wheat”, “whole grain millet”, “whole grain rye” and not simply “whole wheat” or “multigrain”.

BUT – there is one better option out there.  I have a sure-fire way to ensure you are getting whole grains, all the nutrients, all the fibre, all the taste without spending 7 minutes in the bread aisle reading labels and referring to your pocket guide to Health Canada’s labelling regulations.

The secret….

Eat Whole, Intact Grains. Not “Whole Grain” Products.

Leave the bread, the pasta, and the bakery aisles and head to the bulk foods. Fill up some bags with quinoa, spelt, kamut, steel-cut oats, whatever you fancy.

Eating entire, intact grains is by far the best way to enjoy these nutritious carbohydrates. You can see with your bare eyes that all parts of the grain are there and have not been milled, processed, recombined and then labelled as “whole grain”.

The high fibre and moderate protein content of the intact grains ensures that you will feel satisfied, satiated and nourished for hours after eating.  The trouble with bread, even whole grain bread, is that the grain has been pulverized increasing its surface area indefinitely. This makes it very easy for our bodies to digest and absorb these pulverized grains leading to an exaggerated blood sugar and insulin response.  As you come down from your “flour-high” you are left feeling hungry, fatigued, and craving another pick-me-up, usually in the form of sugary treats, caffeine, or more baked goods. You can see where this is headed.

So, avoid the peaks and troughs of eating processed grains.  For breakfast. substitute your toast, croissant or whole wheat bagel for a bowl of steel-cut oats topped with berries and see how you feel.

Instead of your usual sandwich for lunch, try out the Recipe of the Week which is packed full of intact grains, seeds, nuts, dried fruit and vegetables to keep you energized all afternoon.


Spelt, Seeds and Veggie Salad 

Serves 4

1 cup spelt (or kamut)

½ cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup raw or toasted almonds (or a combination)

½ cup raw, chopped, red, yellow or orange peppers

¼ cup chopped dried apricots

¼ cup dried cranberries (or your choice of favourite dried fruits: raisins, cherries, blueberries). Try to get unsweetened if you can.

Mint and coriander (feel free to use your own favourite herbs: flat leaf parsley, dill, basil etc)

Salt and pepper to taste

Serve on bed of hardy greens like spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard etc.


1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp coriander

1/4cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 Tbls extra virgin olive oil


Rinse spelt grains thoroughly under running water and remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, soak spelt in water for eight hours or overnight. Drain, rinse and then add three parts water to each one part spelt berries. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. You can cook without soaking first, but cooking time will be approximately 45-50 minutes.

Toast your own almonds by putting them in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. (You can always use raw or buy ready toasted in a pinch).

Dressing: gently heat the spices in a frying pan to bring out their flavour. Transfer to a small bowl, add the orange juice and whisk in the olive oil.

Once the spelt is cooked, drain and add to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and finish with the herbs, dressing and salt and pepper if desired. Let cool to room temperature and serve on bed of hardy greens.

It will taste even better the next day as the flavours have a chance to marry.

Bon Appétit!

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