Whole Wheat Vs. Wheat Bran

Whole grains are important for us to eat because they provide fiber, vitamins and minerals and can even reduce the risk of certain chronic health problems such as diabetes and colon cancer. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, most people are confused about what constitutes a whole grain. With buzz words like "bran," "multi-grain" and "enriched," it is often difficult to distinguish the differences between types of grains and even between different parts of the same type of grain. Whole wheat and wheat bran are both very healthy and should be included in your diet as often as possible, but they have many differences.

Wheat bran muffins on a cutting board. (Image: vm2002/iStock/Getty Images)

Structure

Whole wheat means there are actually three parts in the grain itself which are eaten. The whole wheat grain is kept intact when processed, and all the parts that were grown in the grain are eaten. The three parts of a whole wheat kernel are the bran, the endosperm and the germ, which each have different nutrition benefits. The bran is actually a part of the whole wheat kernel. It is the outermost layer which protects the endosperm and germ and is often removed when the whole wheat kernel is refined in processing.

Function in Foods

While wheat bran is commonly supplemented in a powder form added to drinks, smoothies and cereals, whole wheat is different in that it is used whole in products like breads and bagels instead of being supplemented. Both bran and whole wheat can function in the body to promote bowel regularity. Whole wheat has a greater variety of function and use in foods because the bran, endosperm and germ each have different textures and qualities. The bran itself is often taken out of a food product during processing because it does not produce as much of a soft, desirable texture in foods as the endosperm.

Nutritional Benefits

The bran of the whole wheat kernel is rich in minerals like copper, selenium and manganese. Wheat bran also has phytochemicals which can help to prevent certain types of cancers. Since bran is rich in fiber, it also adds bulk to stool weight, acting as a mild laxative. A whole wheat kernel includes the bran, so all the nutritional benefits of the bran are included in 100 percent whole wheat products. In addition, the whole wheat kernel has the endosperm, which contains some starch, vitamins and minerals, as well as the germ, which has healthy oils and B vitamins, used for energy.

Storage and Shelf Life

Whole wheat comes in many forms such as whole wheat flour, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bagels. These products all have similar shelf lives as their refined counterparts; white flour, white bread, white pasta and regular bagels. Whole wheat products do not rot quickly, so they may be stored on the counter or in the fridge. In contrast, wheat bran has a high oil content, so it can go rancid very quickly. Wheat bran needs to be stored in a cool and dark place such as the back of a cupboard or the fridge. Wheat bread needs to be continually checked for signs of rancidity such as a change of colors or an off odor.

Which One is Better

There is no concrete answer as to whether whole wheat or wheat bran is better, as they both have comparable uses and nutritional benefits. Whole wheat may be a better choice for one person, while wheat bran may be a better choice for another person, depending on taste preferences and nutritional needs. Wheat bran would probably be a better choice for someone who needs a lot of fiber such as a person suffering from diverticulitis. Whole wheat may be a better choice for someone who doesn't get B vitamins from many other foods, such as a vegan.

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