The term “whole” has become quite a buzzword in the food industry. From “whole foods” to “whole grains,” everybody from manufacturers to marketers to consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with levels of food processing. In response to the advent of low-carb diets such as Atkin’s and the less severe South Beach, a new consciousness emerged about the quality of carbohydrates. Whole grain products and their refined grain counterparts differ in many respects, including fat content.
Definition of a Grain
Biologically, a grain is the edible seed from a plant in the grass family. Commonly used grains include wheat, oats, corn and barley. It has four main parts: the hull, which is always removed before the grain is consumed; the bran, where most of the fiber as well as B-vitamins and oils are stored; the endosperm, made up of starches and protein; and the germ, containing antioxidants, vitamin E and B vitamins.
Whole vs. Refined Grain Products
Whole-grain products, as their name implies, use flour or meal ground from the whole grain, excluding the hull. Refined flours only include the endosperm. Many flours, breads and pastas are now offered in both whole grain and refined varieties. Keep in mind, though, that the kind of flour used affects the final food product in a number of ways, both nutritionally and aesthetically.
Because whole-grain flours and meals include the germ and bran, they carry a slightly higher fat content than their refined counterparts. Whole-wheat bread, then, has a higher fat content than white bread. However, the difference is negligible -- a fraction of a gram per slice. Also, some white breads are made with whole grain flour from albino wheat or refined/whole-grain mixes, so they contain many of the nutritional elements, including the fat, of whole grain flour but preserve the white color.
Fiber, Minerals and Vitamins
Whole-wheat bread has several nutritional benefits over refined white bread. First, they contain more fiber, which aids in digestion and leads to greater satiety. A slice of whole-wheat bread contains 1.9 grams of fiber -- more than twice the amount of white bread, which offers just 0.8 grams per slice. Also, whole-wheat flour naturally contains more minerals than white flour, though white flour is often enriched with minerals and vitamins, including iron and folic acid, to make up for the nutrients lost during processing.
Other Factors to Consider
Taste, texture and color are all altered when a grain is refined. Because of the higher fat fiber and protein content, whole-wheat breads are heartier and feel thicker than refined breads. They also are darker brown in color and taste nuttier or earthier. While some people prefer these characteristics, others do not and “white whole-wheat” breads may substitute as a good alternative.