Whole grain vs. multigrain vs. whole wheat

What’s the difference between ‘multigrain,’ ‘whole wheat’ and ‘whole grain?'

We’ve all heard that we need to eat more grains for a healthy diet and that white bread is not the way to go. So where do we turn? What’s the difference between ‘multigrain,’ ‘whole wheat,’ and ‘whole grain’? With so many different terms out there, it is easy to get confused over label reading. Michigan State University Extension discusses the differences between these three terms, so you can feel confident in knowing that you are choosing the best grain product.

What is a grain?

A natural, untouched, freshly picked grain contains three layers. The outer layer is called the bran. The bran acts like a shield to protect the inside portion of the grain. The bran has fiber, vitamins and minerals in it. The middle layer of the grain is called the endosperm. This is what most refined flour is made of. The endosperm contains carbs, protein and B vitamins. Finally, the inner layer is called the germ. The germ has several nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants in it. All of these layers together make up what we call a ‘whole grain.’


It’s hard to go into a grocery store and not see products advertise that they are ‘multigrain.’ Although our instincts may tell us that ‘multigrain’ equals ‘healthier,’ let’s take a look at what multigrain really means:

A ‘multigrain’ product is one that is made using many different types of grains. However, more types of grains do not necessarily mean better nutrition. Many multigrain products have had the bran (outer layer) and the germ (inner layer) removed from the grain during the manufacturing process. By removing these parts the grain is no longer a whole grain, and many of the nutrients have been removed.

Whole wheat

Some products may say they contain ‘whole wheat.’ Wheat is one of the many types of grains. Therefore, ‘whole wheat’ is a type of ‘whole grain.’

Whole grain

When a product says it contains ‘whole grains’ it means that the grains have not been refined to remove the bran and the germ. They still have all three layers of the original grain. But be careful, just because a product says it contains whole grains does not mean that ALL the grains in it are whole. Look for products that say they are ‘100% whole grain’, or that they are an ‘excellent source’ of whole grain.

Whole grain stamp

Now we know what each term means. But even if we find a product that says it contains ‘whole grains,’ how do we know if it has ENOUGH whole grains in it? The Whole Grains Council has developed a stamp to help us out.

The ‘whole grain stamp’ is a yellow and black logo that is shaped like a postage stamp and can be found on the packaging of some whole grain products. The stamp is a tool that companies can choose to use, but many don’t (there are still plenty of wonderful whole grain food items that don’t use the stamp).

There are two versions of the stamp:

The basic stamp has the words ‘Whole Grain’ under a graphic of grains. Below the words ‘Whole Grains’ are the words "8g or more per serving" - but the product may also contain some refined grain. Even if a product contains large amounts of whole grain (23g, 37g, 41g, etc.), it will use the basic stamp if it also contains extra bran, germ or refined flour. Most people need at least 48g of whole grains per day.

The 100% Stamp has ‘100%’ written on top of the grains graphic. These products have all their grain ingredients which are whole grains. There is a minimum requirement of 16 grams – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving.

To sum up: Look for items that contain whole grains. Some key things to look for are the words “100% Whole Grain,” “An Excellent Source of Whole Grain” or items that contain the whole grain stamp. By following these steps, we can all feel more confident about meeting our whole grain requirements. Remember, the Whole Grains Council is a great resource to use to answer any remaining questions.

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