Multigrain is one of those words used freely in the healthy eating industry. What you, as a health-conscious consumer, should know is exactly what this kind of grain is, how it's made, and what it can do for you.
Definition of the Term
Multigrain is actually not a very concrete term. Multiple products may label themselves with this term, but may not share much in common. The one common factor for this term is that the product must literally contain multiple grains. However, there is no singular list of grains a product with this label must contain, nor does it mandate anything about how these grains are prepared. Products with this term may contain any mixture of wheat, corn, barely, rice, oats, buckwheat, flax, millet or something similar. A product needs only two or more types of different grains to deserve this title.
How It's Made
Since the term "multigrain" doesn't say anything about the way in which a product's grains must be prepared, a product with this term can be made in multiple ways. If the product is whole grain--and it will usually proudly proclaim this fact, if it is--the multiple grains are derived from entire kernels. When whole grain, you get the optimal amount of nutrients and fiber from the grains. However, multiple-grain products can also be made in any other fashion, including bleaching and starching and using the less nutritious parts of the grain.
These products may be refined, which means that healthy parts, such as the germ and bran, are removed and the grain is enriched with chemicals and bleached. The products may also be unrefined, which is usually similar to whole grain, or at least the grains used are not processed with chemicals and removals. Or, they may be a mixture of both unrefined and refined.
What These Foods Offer
Don't be so quick to assume that multigrain products are healthy products. Once you understand that they can be made in multiple fashions, you'll realize that a multiple-grain product could contain as much refined grains that are devoid of nutrition as the basic bleached white flour. You can't even assume that at least you're getting a plethora of grains and their nutrients, because you may be getting as few as two different grains. And, if the grains are refined, they'll be lacking in much of their original nutrients and fibers.
On the other hand, some multiple-grain products can also be whole grain. When they're whole grain, you'll be getting the optimal amount of nutrients and fibers--and it'll be even better for you because you'll be getting them from several different grain sources.
Multigrain is not guaranteed to be a healthier choice than other kinds of grains; in fact, it may be just as unhealthy as bleached grains, although it can also be as healthy as whole grains. If you're looking for a healthy grain option, make sure you seek out whole grain foods because they're guaranteed to have more fiber and nutrients.