What is a "wholegrain"?

The popularity of whole grains has increased significantly in recent times – and for good reason too. Research has shown that regular consumption of wholegrain foods may offer protection against heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even some cancers.

With greater awareness of the role diet plays in the development of these chronic lifestyle diseases, consumers are seeking healthier alternatives when shopping and eating out. As a result, food manufacturers and retailers continue to expand their “wholegrain” food offerings. What used to be a simple choice between white, brown, or grain bread, however, has now become a complex and often confusing decision. Which of these wholegrain products are best? How many of these wholegrain options are, in fact, made with whole grains?

Well, Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) provide a definition for the term ‘wholegrain’ to promote a standardised approach to food product labeling. A wholegrain food, by their definition is one that uses “every part of the grain - including the outer layers, bran and germ… even if these parts are separated during processing and regardless of whether the grain is in one piece or milled into smaller pieces”.

To make things a little clearer, the term wholegrain refers to:

  • whole and intact grains, such as those found in some bread and crisp breads

  • puffed or flaked grains, you may find in some breakfast cereals;

  • coarsely milled or kibbled wheat, found in breads such as pumpernickel; and

  • ground grains, such whole wheat flour used to make wholemeal* bread.

* FSANZ outlines that “wholemeal applies to foods in which the whole grains have been refined into finer particles. This gives manufacturers the option of describing their foods as either wholegrain or wholemeal to avoid misleading the customer.”

When shopping for wholegrain products:

  • Choose foods that are naturally whole grains: some foods are always whole grains, like rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, and popcorn.

  • Check the information on the package: choose a bread, cereal, tortillas, and pasta with 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat flour on the label (Note: foods with the words 100% wheat, multi-grain, 7 grains, cracked wheat, bran or made with/contains whole wheat/grains on the label are generally not 100% whole-grain products).

  • Check the ingredient list: Take a few seconds to see if the food is made from whole grains. Look for the word whole, wholemeal, or kibbled before the first ingredient. Some examples of whole-grain ingredients include: brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, rolled oats and oatmeal, quinoa (this pseudo-cereal is actually a seed), whole-grain barley, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, and wild rice)

But be aware, colours can be misleading too. Foods like breads, pasta, rice, and tortillas that are dark in color may not be 100% wholegrain foods. And, some lighter coloured grain foods may be 100% wholegrain foods - such as 100% white whole wheat bread. To be sure a food is a wholegrain food, check the ingredients using the tips above.