Wholemeal, wholegrain and wholewheat actually all refer to the same thing – bread that’s made using unrefined “wholegrain” flour. The difference is: “Wholemeal” is a term used in the UK, while “wholegrain” and “wholewheat” are terms used in the US, says Vidya Bhat, a dietitian at Nutrition Network Services. Wholegrain bread is also ranked #3 in our list of 12 Power Foods.
Multigrain, though, is a different story. “Breads with the terms multigrain, 5-grain or 7-grain don’t always mean they use wholegrain in their formula,” she adds.
As for which is healthiest, just go for breads with the word “whole” in their descriptions. But note that just because a bread looks brown, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy – its colour could have been affected by processed sugar or colouring.
Wholegrains are healthy because they’re rich in protein, fibre, B vitamins, and essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorous. Also, wholegrains are rich in antioxidants, say scientists at the University of Scranton in the US. The antioxidants may be bound with fibre, aiding absorption. Your best bet is to get bread that uses a mix of wholegrains, such as barley, millet, rolled oats or rye, advises dietitian Vidya Bhat of Nutrition Network Services.
To assess if your bread of choice is healthy for you, look at the ingredients list and ask three questions: Is the first ingredient a wholegrain? Does each slice have more than 2g of fibre? Is “inulin” or “polydextrose” present? The correct answers: Yes, yes and no. Inulin and polydextrose are two additives used to artificially boost fibre.
For a healthy digestion, opt for rye bread. In a Finnish study of people who were easily constipated, those who ate about six slices of wholegrain rye bread for three weeks had easier, more frequent bowel movements than those who ate white bread or took a laxative. A compound found in rye may enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria in your colon. Still, rye bread in lesser quantities may provide digestive health, too, says Reetta Holma, PhD, lead author of the study.