Grains are any foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain product.  Examples of grain products include pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, grits, and rice.  All grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and they are naturally low in fat. 

Grains can be either whole or refined. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. Whole wheat is one type of whole grain but there are many other types as well. Examples of commonly eaten whole grains include whole wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, popcorn, buckwheat, wild rice and brown rice.  Less common whole grains include amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and triticale.

Refined grains have been milled and have the bran and the germ removed.  Refined grains have a finer texture and longer shelf life; however, refining removes fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Since valuable nutrients are removed by the refining process, most refined grains are enriched, which means that certain nutrients, such as some B vitamins and iron, are added back to the grains.  Fiber is usually not added back. Therefore, most refined grains do not provide as much beneficial fiber.  Examples of refined grains include white flour, refined cornmeal, white bread and white rice. 

Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium.  Therefore, whole grains are the best choice for most healthy people.  The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the food guide pyramid recommends that you make "half your grains whole."  Following this guideline, most people should eat at least three servings of whole grain foods each day.  Keep in mind that not all dark grains are whole grains. Bread can be brown because molasses is added.

And what about white whole wheat bread?  Have you seen this in the store?  According to the Mayo Clinic, regular whole wheat bread is made with red wheat, which is darker in color and has a slightly bitter taste.  White whole wheat bread is made with an albino variety of wheat, which is lighter in color and has a sweeter, milder flavor.  It has the nutritional benefits of whole wheat bread, such as increased fiber and nutrients, but may be more appealing to some who prefer the taste or texture of white bread. 

Remember, when reading the label, make sure the word "whole" is in the first ingredient or look for the first ingredient to be one of the whole grains mentioned above. Foods labeled multi-grain or cracked wheat or 100% wheat are usually not whole grain products.