Can you explain the different types of whole wheat?
I know you are supposed to look for the word “whole” as the first ingredient in a bread, but what if you have choices like stone ground whole wheat or whole white wheat?
Which is better?
— Jill Twist
You are absolutely right that the main thing to look for when purchasing breads is “whole wheat” (or a whole non-wheat flour) as the first ingredient.
As you point out, though, other factors come into play that can confuse you and millions of other consumers. Let’s run through some common wheat-based ingredients and what they mean from a nutrition standpoint. Although your question specifically refers to whole wheat varieties, I am going to throw in a little bit of information about “healthy-sounding” non-whole wheat ingredients.
- “Stoneground”: Rather irrelevant. The Food & Drug Administration has not drafted a legal definition for this term, meaning it is ripe for misuse. Focus on the word immediately following “stoneground”. If it’s “whole” (as in “stoneground whole wheat flour”), you’re fine. Otherwise, I recommend looking for another bread.
- “Enriched wheat flour”: This is the fancy term for white flour.
- “Unbleached wheat flour”: Again, ‘wheat flour’ without the word “whole” preceding it is white flour. Unbleached simply means it did not go through a chemical bleaching process. Certainly good to know, but irrelevant when it comes to fiber/whole grain concerns.
- “White whole wheat flour”: This is a 100% whole grain flour made from an albino strand of wheat. It offers the exact same health benefits and fiber values of traditional whole wheat. White whole wheat bread is not a scam or a nutritionally inferior product!
So, really, as long as the first ingredient is whole wheat flour, the words preceding it are not terribly important.
Other points to keep in mind when purchasing bread products:
- Although rye flour is a whole grain, most rye breads are a combination of white flour (remember, you’ll see it listed as “enriched wheat flour” on the ingredient list) and rye flour, and therefore offer practically no fiber.
- If there are multiple flours in a bread, you want all of them (or at least the majority of them) to be whole flours. “Multigrain” simply means “more than one grain”; it indicates nothing about whole grain levels.
- Watch for added sugars. Some breads offer as much as 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of added sugar per slice. That means the mere act of making a sandwich with that bread tacks on 8 grams of sugar to your day. Look for no more than 2 grams per slice.
Please check out my “breads with no added junk” guide for specific brand names I like and recommend.