What is a multigrain food item?
Here's the multigrain labelling requirements in Canada:
Multi-grain products require 2 or more grains to be present in an amount of 2% each or more. For the purpose of a multi-grain claim, the following are considered grains: Soybean, safflower, peas, corn, flaxseed, wheat, rapeseed, oats, mustard seed, barley, beans, buckwheat, lentils, rye, favabeans, sunflower seeds, triticale and cottonseed.
Note: there are different definitions of what counts as a grain in a botanical and culinary sense. Although flaxseed and buckwheat are not considered botanical grains, they are often used as grains in food production and in cooking.
So that's a lot of options, but which ones are actually common? I'll consider a few off-the-shelf loaves of bread from my favourite breadmaker, Silver Hills.
- Organic Multigrain - oats, rye, barley (plus millet & quinoa which don't count)
- Big 16 - oats, rye, barley, corn (plus millet, khorasan & rice)
So for the purposes of this analysis, let's consider oats, rye, and barley as being common ingredients in multigrain food products.
According to the NCCDB, here's what is provided by 100 grams of flour made from several different kinds of whole grains.
total protein (g) lysine (mg) fibre (g) starch (g)
wheat flour 13.21 359 10.7 57.8
oat flour 13.15 637 10.1 57.9
rye flour 10.88 212 11.8 50.6
barley flour 10.00 366 16.6 54.3
spelt flour 14.57 409 10.7 53.9
millet flour 10.75 144 3.5 69.9
In all cases, the lysine content is slightly low. The reference profile for a complete protein has 51 mg lysine/g protein but these grains range from 13-48 mg/g. Because all grains are low in lysine, the addition of more grains does not compensate that weakness or make grain into a complete protein.
From a nutritional perspective, I would say that multigrain food items do not offer much benefit compared to foods made from a single grain.
Multigrain vs. Whole Grain
Multigrain products are not necessarily whole grain products. A multigrain product might be produced from multiple grains where the bran, germ, and endosperm has been removed. This would, of course, reduce the nutritional content of the food.
If possible, try to identify multigrain products that are also made from whole grains.
Ezekiel 4:9 bread
The preparation of Ezekiel 4:9 bread is described in the bible and may be one of the oldest multigrain formations still consumed.
Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.
This is similar to the example multigrain bread given above (wheat and barley), but the beans and lentils are the real feature here. Beans and lentils are both high in lysine, and help make the bread into a complete protein by balancing the amino acid profile.
- Some breads may be fortified or enriched with a variety of vitamins or minerals
- Some breads may include seeds which substantially changes the nutritional content
- Some breads are made from sprouted grains which are likely to have a different nutritional profile as a result of chemical changes within the grain
Multigrain bread is not necessarily better than whole wheat bread, and in some cases may actually have lower protein and lysine content due to the inclusion of rye or millet. Overall, most grains are quite similar and combining grains does more to affect taste than nutrition.
For a more balanced food, look for bread that includes non-grain ingredients such as seeds (especially flax) and legumes (beans or lentils).