The difference between whole wheat and whole grains is a matter of specificity, registered dietitian Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., says. “Whole wheat is always whole grain, but whole grain doesn’t always mean whole wheat.”
Whole grains are grains that are minimally process or completely unprocessed, and still contain all three components of the grain’s kernel. “The kernel contains the bran, endosperm, and germ,” functional medicine doctor and registered dietitian Elizabeth Boham, M.D., M.S., R.D., tells mbg. “These germ and bran are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals.”
According to Moon, “These healthy components of whole grains make all the difference, and they’re what’s missing in white bread and pasta.”
The only difference between whole grains and whole wheat is the specified type of grain. “Whole grains also include brown rice, steel cut oats, and sorghum,” Moon says, while whole wheat only applies to, well, wheat.
When looking for whole wheat bread, specifically, “the easiest way to decipher what’s inside a loaf is to check out the ingredients,” Moon says, noting the first ingredient should be whole wheat. “Watch out for breads labeled as multigrain, wheat, or stone ground,” Moon tells mbg. While those may contain some whole wheat, it’s not always the sole ingredient. To be sure, Moon suggests looking for the whole grains stamp of approval from the Whole Grains council.