The benefits of incorporating whole grains into a healthy diet are well documented. However, take a stroll through your bread aisle and it becomes evident that each and every brand wants to be associated with these benefits, plastering "whole grain", "multigrain" or other bold claims on the side of their products to draw in consumers. Although "multigrain" appears to be a healthy option for incorporating a variety of grains into your diet, this loosely defined term is not necessarily synonymous with the hearty, whole wheat varieties.
What is "Multigrain"?
"Multigrain" simply means that the loaf contains several different types of grains, distinguishing it from whole grain breads. These grains can include oats, barley, cornmeal, wheat, millet, flax and others. However, there is no universal list of grains that a product with this label must contain. Additionally, the product only needs to contain two or more different grains to be deemed "multigrain". The term also does not mandate anything about how the grains are prepared. This means that "multigrain" is not always going to be synonymous with "whole grain."
How It's Made
Because the term "multigrain" does not dictate anything about the way in which a product's grains must be prepared, a product carrying this term can be prepared in multiple ways. If the "multigrain" is also truly "whole grain", the multiple grains are derived from the entire kernels. Whole grain varieties provide the optimal amount of nutrients and fiber. On the other hand, bread containing refined flours and grains can still be marketed as "multigrain." When grains go through the refining process, they lose their germ and bran portions of the kernels, stripping away most of their nutritive components. In addition, some multigrain products can be somewhere in the middle, possibly containing one whole grain on top of other refined grains.
Possible Health Benefits
Multigrain foods are often quite hearty and will provide a dense texture and rich flavor in breads or cereals. However, unless you are sure that the multigrain food was made from whole grain ingredients, the health benefits may be minimal.
In order to maximize the health benefits of your multigrain product, make sure to check out the food label and look to see that each grain includes the word "whole". One quick way to check if the food contains refined grains is to scan for the words "enriched wheat flour." If you find this near the top of the ingredient list, it means that the multigrain food is not composed entirely of whole grains and has limited health benefits as compared to the whole grain varieties.
Overall, multigrain is not always going to be a sure thing when you're looking for a healthier grain option. In order to get the greatest bang for your nutritional buck, seek out whole grains or multigrain products composed of all whole grains. This will give you a great boost in fiber and other micronutrients and will help you to incorporate some healthier grain choices into your daily diet.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.