Saturday, 23 February 2008

Whole wheat is not a whole grain!

We all know that whole grains are good for us- research has linked the consumption of whole grains with a lower cholesterol, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and even certain types of cancer. The fibre in whole grains helps promote regularity and supports the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestines.

A whole grain contains the entire kernel of the grain which includes the fibre-rich outer bran, the middle layer endosperm and the nutrient-packed inner germ.
When a grain is refined, the outer bran and the inner germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm, the least nutritious part of the grain. It's the 3 components of the whole grain, in the proportions found naturally, that provide all the benefits.

Canada's new Food Guide recommends making at least half of your grain product choices whole grain. However, most dietitians will tell you ALL your grains should be whole grains!
They'll also tell you (and I'm among them) that Whole wheat bread would be included in this category.

Well, we're wrong!!

Canadian legislation dating back to 1964 does not require the whole grain to be used in a whole wheat product. In fact, whole wheat products typically have about 70% of the wheat's germ removed! This differs from the States where whole wheat flour contains all the parts of the grain, making it a whole grain in that country.

Isn't using the word 'whole' in front of 'wheat' false advertising? Isn't 'whole' supposed to mean the entire kernel?! Most dietitians thought so, according to an informal survey done in 2007. Most were also unaware of the fact that whole wheat was not a whole grain- including dietitians at the Heart & Stroke Foundation and a professor teaching food chemistry at a Canadian university's nutrition program.

Heart & Stroke Foundation planned (in 2007) on making a submission to Health Canada regarding this issue. They state that "when a label says whole, as it does in whole wheat, then 100% of all the components, not just 30% of the germ, should be present". It's definitely time for the legislation to change.

A spokesperson for the Baking Association of Canada stated that many consumers view whole grains as unappealing due to taste, and that whole wheat provides and important next step for those that want to choose a product with a little more nutritional benefit than white bread.

Perhaps (although it's a bit surprising that people would think of whole grain as more unappealing than whole wheat) . But why do so by duping people into thinking they're choosing a whole grain product?

To distinguish products that contain all three parts of the whole grain, read the ingredient list – look for the words "whole grain" before the name of the grain. Products labeled with the words "multigrain," "stone ground," "100% whole wheat," "seven-grain," or "bran" may actually contain little or no whole grain.

Other whole grains include:

Barley (but not pearl barley that has some of the bran missing): The fibre in barley is really healthy- may lower cholesterol more effectively than oat fibre!
Buckwheat: Actually not a grain but a fruit- a cousin of rhubarb. Has been adopted as a whole grain due to its high nutrient content. Only grain known to have the antioxidant 'rutin' that helps lower LDL cholesterol (the bad one).
Emmer, aka Farro: Staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty.
Grano: When durum wheat kernels ("wheat berries") are lightly polished, they become grano (Italian word for 'grain').
Millet: The variety of this grain sold in North America for human consumption is called pearl millet.
Oats: Oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. Scientific studies have concluded that like barley, oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan found to be especially effective in lowering cholesterol. Recent research reports indicate that oats also have a unique antioxidant, avenanthramides, that helps protect blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol.
Quinoa (keen-wa): Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain. Must be rinsed before cooking to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant-defense that wards off insects. The abundant protein in quinoa is a complete protein.
Rice: White rice is refined, with the germ and bran removed. Whole-grain rice is usually brown – but, unknown to many, can also be black, purple, red or any of a variety of exotic hues.
Rye: Look for whole grain rye. Rye is unusual among grains for the high level of fiber in its endosperm – not just in its bran. Because of this, rye products generally have a lower glycemic index than products made from wheat and most other grains, making them especially healthy for diabetics.
Sorghum/Milo: A gluten-free grain popular among those with celiac disease.
Spelt: Higher in protein than common wheat.
Teff: Largely unknown outside of Ethiopia, India and Australia. Contains over twice the iron of other grains and 20x the calcium. 1 cup teff contains more calcium (387mg) than a cup of milk.
Triticale Wheat: Includes durum wheat and wheat berries.
Wild rice: Wild rice is technically not rice but a seed of an aquatic grass. Wild rice has twice the protein and fibre of brown rice, but less iron and calcium.

Sources: Rosie Schwartz, RD National Post article, Health Canada, Nutrition Action and .


nc said...

Great article! Not to toot my own horn, but i was aware that whole wheat was not whole grain. I am only aware of this b/c a client had mentioned it a while back, so i did my research. Yes we should always recommend whole grain, but for people who only eat white bread, whole wheat is a step in the right direction. Any improvement helps!!!!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Hey nc,
Ya- truthfully I had heard that whole wheat wasn't a whole grain but I thought it was 30% of the grain that was removed... but it's up to 70% of the grain.
I agree though, whole wheat is an important step in the right long as people are informed that there's still another step to take...
Thanks for reading and for your comments!!