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The Difference Between Whole Grain and Whole Wheat

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Whole grain and whole wheat foods are generally both packed with nutrients and make excellent additions to heart-healthy meal plans. However, with so many different whole grain products available to choose from, it can be difficult to determine the difference, if any, between whole grain and whole wheat foods.

What are Whole Grains?

Whole grains are foods that contain of the entire portion of each grain -- which includes the bran (outer layer of the grain), the endosperm (middle portion of the grain), and the germ (the inner "heart" of the grain). Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, millet, cracked wheat (bulgur), quinoa, barley and oats, according to the American Heart Association.

What is Whole Wheat?

Whole wheat is a type of whole grain, because it still contains all of its original parts including the bran, endosperm and germ. However, just because something is made from wheat doesn't mean it's whole wheat -- or whole grain. When looking for whole wheat products, look for labels that specifically say whole wheat, or list whole wheat flour as an ingredient. Cracked wheat (bulgur) and wheat berries are also whole grains.

Similarities Between the Two

Regardless of whether or not you choose whole wheat or another type of whole grain, you'll reap several nutritional benefits. All whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals - and contain at least some protein. In comparison, refined grains contain less fiber and fewer vitamins and minerals, though some are fortified with these nutrients. A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine reports that an increased intake of whole grains, whether it be whole wheat or another type of whole grain, is associated with lower rates of heart disease and overall deaths.

What are Refined Grains?

Refined grains are processed grains that lack the bran and germ of the grain, according to the American Heart Association. Examples of refine grains include wheat flour, enriched flour, wheat germ, and white rice. Products that are often made using refined grains as ingredients include white bread and regular pasta.

Considerations for Wheat Allergies

If you have a wheat allergy, try other types of whole grains instead such as oats, brown rice, or quinoa. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend you eat six servings of grains daily when following a 2,000-calorie diet, and suggest getting at least half of your grains from whole-grain foods.

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An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as and

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