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Ask Tufts Experts August 2013 Issue

Q. Is there a difference in healthy eating between “whole wheat” and “whole grain,” and does it matter if it’s organic?

A. Nicola McKeown, PhD, director of Tufts’ Nutritional Epidemiology Program, explains: “Whole grains include many different grains, such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye. These grains are called ‘whole’ if they are not milled into refined grain versions. For instance, whole wheat bread is a whole grain food, but if a bread label states only ‘wheat bread’ it is, in fact, NOT a whole grain but rather a refined wheat product. Labels typically will not include the word ‘refined’ to describe a grain; therefore the absence of the word ‘whole’ indicates that the grain is refined. This is confusing for consumers. So, when you’re reading ingredients labels, make sure the label states ‘whole grain [name of grain],’ or ‘whole wheat,’ or ‘whole rye,’ etc. Of course, the closer to the top of the ingredients list, the more of the grain it contains. “I have read that organic breads contain more whole grains compared to conventional whole wheat bread and that there are approximately 3% more preservatives/additives in traditional whole wheat bread as compared with organic. To my knowledge, there is otherwise no research indicating that organic whole grains are more nutritious than conventional whole grains—although there may be other environmental benefits of organic farming. Of course, one has to look at the label to determine if the product has the USDA organic seal. To earn this seal, a product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients by weight (not counting water or salt). If a bread states, ‘made with organic ingredients,’ it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients by weight. Personally, I choose a whole wheat organic bread.”

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