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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: What’s the difference between “multi-grain” and “whole grain”?

A: Multi-grain simply indicates that a product is made from more than one kind of grain. It is not the same thing as whole grain. For example, multi-grain bread could be made from a combination of wheat, oats and barley. The term does not give any information about whether the grains included are whole grains or refined grains. No matter how many grains are used, if the bran and germ of the grain are removed, much of the fiber, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B-6 and vitamin E are lost. Natural phytochemicals that may help fight inflammation and reduce cancer development are also gone.

Checking to see if a multi-grain product is a whole grain can be challenging!

Check the ingredient list and look for the term “whole.” If all grains listed are whole grains (for example, whole grain wheat, rolled oats or brown rice), then it is a 100 percent whole-grain product. Also, look at the front of the package. If it says 100 percent whole grain, then it is. The official yellow Whole Grain stamp is also on foods indicating that they contain 100 percent or a half serving of whole grains.

Higher fiber can be a sign of whole-grain content, but if the fiber comes from added bran or isolated fiber (e.g., inulin, polydextrose polyols, wheat dextrin), it’s not bringing along the other healthful components of whole grains.

The ingredient list also provides some information on how many whole grains are included. If one or more whole grains are listed first, followed by one refined grain, then although this is not completely whole grain, the product offers more nutrition than something made only of refined grains.

Learn more about whole grains: AICR's Foods that Fight Cancer


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 08/31/2015

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