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    Archive for the ‘pasta’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Shirataki Noodles

    noodlesSomeone in my class was talking about this “Hungry Girl diet” and mentioned shirataki noodles.

    Have you heard of them? What do you think?

    — Danielle Ippolito
    (Location Unknown)

    I have indeed heard of them.  FYI: for my thoughts on Hungry Girl and her “diet” (it’s not a diet as much as it is a way of eating), please read this post.

    Onto your question:

    Shirataki noodles are made solely from an Asian root vegetable.  Since they are mainly composed of soluble fiber, they are very low in calories.  Some manufacturers of these noodles claim they are “calorie-free”, which makes no sense to me.  Unlike insoluble fiber, soluble fiber is not calorie-free.

    While a local Asian market may sell shirataki noodles made exclusively from that fiber, the more popular brands sold here in the United States are made from a combination of said root vegetable and tofu (mainly for texture purposes).  In fact, the ingredient list places ‘tofu’ before ‘yam flour’.

    I often see them as touted as “weight-loss food”, which is silly because there is nothing about them that inherently causes weight loss.  They are certainly low in calories, but “weight-loss food” implies that a food has some sort of magic property that results in weight loss.

    A dinner of shirataki noodles may be low-calorie, but if your lunch was a Chili’s quesadilla, don’t expect any weight-loss miracles.

    Here is why I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the “new pasta”:

    • Shirataki noodles are flavorless, and reinforce the stereotype that healthy food must be void of taste and solely consumed “because it’s good for you”
    • While low in calories, they are also low in every nutrient.  I wouldn’t refer to them as “nutritious”
    • Since they have very little flavor, many people consume them in ways that are highly caloric anyway (i.e: rich sauces, stir-frying them in oil, etc.)

    If someone enjoys these noodles, more power to them.  I would never steer someone away from eating them.  They are certainly an excellent source of soluble fiber, and offer some health benefits.

    However, it’s worth remembering that there is nothing inherently unhealthy about pasta, especially whole-grain varieties.  The main problem in the United States is that pasta is eaten in huge amounts and drenched in highly-caloric sauces.

    If you are looking for wheat-free pastas, I recommend soba noodles (look for ones made solely from buckwheat flour, such as the Eden Organics brand), brown rice pastas, or quinoa pastas.

    If calories are a concern, give spiralized zucchini “noodles” a try.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Spinach Spaghetti

    41X-iqOQP6L._SS500_Are spinach spaghetti noodles more nutritious than regular ones?

    — Sandra (Last name withheld)
    Columbus, GA

    Slightly.

    Spinach spaghetti (and other kinds of dry pasta) are made from refined flour and spinach powder.

    As a refined grain, it does not offer as much fiber or as many minerals as whole wheat pastas.

    While the spinach powder offers significantly lower levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients than fresh spinach, it does offer quite a bit of vitamin K.

    Of course, a whole wheat pasta dish and with added spinach offers more “nutritional bang for your buck”.  Replace spinach with arugula, kale, or broccoli and you’re looking at an even more nutritious dish!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Kamut

    EFI_PASTA_KAMUT_SPIRALSPlease enlighten me.  For the past few months, I’ve seen kamut pasta at the grocery store.  I had never heard of it before.

    What is kamut?  Is it healthier than wheat?

    — Julie Wilkens
    St. Paul, MN

    Kamut, the “brand name” for khorasan, is a whole grain native to the Middle East.

    The name “Kamut” is of Egyptian origin, and refers to a popular legend (not urban, mind you, just a regular legend) that khorasan was a staple of Egyptian pharaos.

    Although it is a relative of wheat — and definitely not appropriate for anyone on a gluten-free diet — it has a nuttier taste and chewier texture, reminiscent of brown rice.

    You can buy kamut “as is” (it looks like extra large brown rice grains), in pasta form, or as an oatmeal-like hot cereal.

    You will often see an ® symbol after kamut.  No need for concern; it is not genetically modified or owned by Monsanto!

    As kamut producers explain it, the grain was patented in 1990 “to protect and preserve the exceptional qualities of a particular variety of the ancient wheat.”

    In order to receive the “kamut” trademark, manufacturers of these foods must sign a licensing agreement and abide by certain rules (i.e.: 100% organic farming practices, a certain amount of selenium per sample, and a specific protein range).

    A half cup of cooked kamut delivers:

    • 140 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein

    Additionally, it is an excellent source of selenium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.

    I see very little nutritional differences between it and 100 percent whole wheat pasta, though.

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    Say What?: Pasta… in a Bread Bowl?

    Behold the latest creation from Domino’s Pizza — penne pasta entrees… served in a bread bowl!

    As a matter of fact, the chain claims their “pasta is so good, you’ll devour the bowl.”

    Not too surprisingly, calorie information is yet to be posted, and the four calls I made to their corporate headquarters proved unsuccessful.

    It doesn’t take many brain cells, though, to figure out that items like chicken carbonara, Italian sausage marinara, chicken alfredo, pasta primavera, and three cheese mac-n-cheese nestled inside a thick round piece of bread are far from “light” options.

    I’m willing to bet we are dealing with 4-figure calorie values. As soon as the reveal occurs, I will post it on Small Bites.

    In the meantime, I’ll meditate and see if I can come up with the answer to: “What higher-up at Domino’s passionately believes Americans are clamoring for pasta in a bread bowl?”

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    You Ask, I Answer: Pasta

    I’ve heard so many different things about pasta from a nutritional standpoint.

    Is pasta from Italy enriched with vitamins and minerals [like it is in the United States]?

    Is pasta cooked al dente better for you because it digests slower?

    Some say [pasta] is no better than white refined bread, but others say differently?

    What’s the deal?

    — Carrie Watson
    (via the blog)

    What a great trilogy of questions! Let’s taken them one by one.

    White flour products in the United States are enriched with nutrients lost in the milling process (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and iron) as a result of The Federal Enrichment Act of 1942.

    In the United States, all white flour products are also fortified with folate.

    Some countries have similar laws (in Argentina, the same nutrients are added back to flour, whereas in England white flour must be enriched with these nutrients AND fortified with calcium), but Italy is not one of them.

    From a nutritional standpoint, cooking pasta al dente is recommended over mushy consistencies since the “al dente” texture has a lower glycemic index (meaning it does not spike blood glucose levels quite as much.)

    However, remember that the glycemic load of a pasta meal is ultimately determined by what else you are eating with your pasta.

    If, for example, your pasta dinner contains some protein, fat, and fiber (i.e.: whole wheat pasta with meatballs and parmesan cheese), those additional components will help slow down digestion and lessen the sharp spike in blood sugar levels.

    As far as white bread and pasta made with refined flour are concerned — yes, they are basically identical from a nutritional standpoint (the main exception being that one ounce of bread has roughly 150 to 200 milligrams of sodium, while most dry pasta is sodium-free.)

    It’s not that white bread and pasta are inherently unhealthy, but rather that, compared to whole wheat varieties, they are nutritionally inferior.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Orzo

    Is orzo a whole grain?

    — Cara Montello
    (City withheld), NV

    If you lived in Italy and asked me this question, I would answer “yes,” since “orzo” is the Italian term for barley.

    What is known as orzo in the United States, though, is basically pasta made from refined flour. For all intents and purposes, it is like eating standard spaghetti noodles.

    As the accompanying picture shows, orzo pasta looks like large grains of barley, hence the name.

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    Mac and Cheese Grows (And Shapes!) Up

    After years of being labeled an unhealthy kids’ food, mac and cheese is receiving a glamorous, adult-friendly makeover from two fairly new companies — Road’s End Organics and Fiber Gourmet.

    Road’s End Organics offers a delectable vegan and organic whole wheat elbow macaroni “Mac and Chreese” (yes, that is ‘cheese’ with an extra ‘r’) that is also free of soy and nuts.

    The sauce gets most of its flavor from nutritional yeast, a popular vegan alternative to cheese.

    The best part? Each serving (half the box) adds up to:

    340 calories
    0 grams of saturated fat
    400 milligrams of sodium
    8 grams of fiber

    14 grams of protein

    25% of the Vitamin B12 Daily Value (I mention this since we are referring to a vegan product)

    This passed not only my taste test with flying colors, but also those of traditional Mac ‘n Cheese eaters (some of which asked me, “Are you SURE this isn’t real cheese?”)

    That is quite a feat, considering I used unsweetened soymilk as a base for the “cheese” sauce. If you are not of the vegan persuasion, you can certainly use cow’s milk if you so choose — preferably skim or 2%.

    Fiber Gourmet meanwhile, is keeping the dairy in mac and cheese but adding fiber in plentiful amounts.

    One serving (1 cup) of their new kosher-friendly, free-of-artificial-colors Mac and Cheese product contains a whooping 18 grams of fiber!

    A few things worth noting:

    First of all, the fiber comes from — yay! — actual food (modified wheat starch and wheat gluten, to be exact) rather than synthetic dust.

    Secondly, the folks at Fiber Gourmet have done an amazing job of creating a high-fiber pasta with top-notch taste and texture.

    There isn’t the slightest hint of graininess, nor does the pasta quickly congeal into a great big ball of mush like those awful low-carb soy pastas that were the rage for all of eight seconds in 2003. Are we SURE that wasn’t really fussilli shaped cardboard?

    Because the fiber content is so high, I would recommend having half a cup in one sitting (as a tasty side dish that delivers a reasonable 330 milligrams of sodium, more than respectable 9 grams of fiber, and only 90 calories!), especially if your current diet is not very high in fiber (in which case, too much too soon causes an intestinal revolt).

    Also, keep in mind that children’s fiber needs are different from adults. For children ages 3 to 16, fiber needs are determined by taking the child’s age and adding 5 to it.

    Hence, the 18 grams of fiber in each serving is too much for a 9 year old.

    With pre-teens, for instance, I would suggest mixing half a cup of Fiber Gourmet’s mac and cheese with another half cup of a “regular” variety.

    In any case, this is a wonderful way to boost fiber intake in a tasty, low-calorie way.

    Mac and cheese. It’s not just for kids anymore.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Forty percent of adults in the United States consume a grand total of ZERO whole grain servings every day.

    Not the most encouraging of statistics.

    Although whole grains are increasingly more available, I suspect this has to do with a lack of education and knowledge.

    Many people, for instance, think multigrain bread is a whole grain. It’s not.

    Additionally, the overwhelming majority of new whole grain products come in the shape of sugary cookies or cereals “made with whole grains,” which can mean that as little as 5% of the total wheat flour used is whole.

    Not the best approach.

    If your whole grain consumption isn’t up to par, here are some ideas.

    — Whether at home or at a restaurant, opt for brown rice. Kitchen-phobes have no excuse. Many companies now offer brown rice that cooks in 10 minutes in the microwave. Nutritionally, it is equal to regular, longer-cooking varieties.

    — Enjoy whole wheat pasta, like DeCecco whole wheat fusilli (pictured at right). If you are brand new to it, make your dishes with half regular pasta and half whole wheat.

    — Eat whole grain bread (at least 3 grams of fiber per slice and ‘whole wheat flour’ as the first ingredient).

    — Experiment with alternative grains like quinoa and whole wheat couscous (they cook the exact same way as rice. All you need is a pot and water).

    — Add barley to your soups.

    — Start your morning with plain oatmeal (sweeten it up with fruits; add fiber and protein with walnuts or almonds)

    — Make sure your morning cereal is whole grain (again, look for whole wheat or oat flour as the main ingredient).

    — Snack on popcorn (air pop it or make it at home in a pot with a little bit of olive oil).

    — Make waffles and pancakes with whole grain mixes. If you buy frozen varieties, make sure they are whole grain.

    Remember, whole grains offer more health benefits than non-whole grains with extra added fiber.

    If you need more assistance, check out the Whole Grains Council’s amazing and extensive list of whole grain products. It’s the perfect supermarket assistant!

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    More Numbers, More Problems

    Behold the latest curveball thrown at supermarket shoppers — “grams of whole grains”.

    When this trend first started in early 2007, I inwardly cringed and hoped for its quick disappearance.  Far from it — I keep seeing it on more and more products!

    It is my suspicion that with whole grains and fiber being the latest hot topics, food manufacturers hope to confuse shoppers looking to increase fiber intake by boasting about the grams of whole grains in their foods — two very different concepts.

    Consider this your “advertising-proof” tutorial on whole grains.

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    According to MyPyramid (also known as 2005’s “food pyramid 2.0”), adults who ate 2,000 calories per day should consume 6 servings of grains.  The USDA defines a serving of grains as one ounce (28 grams). Remember that figure, it will come in handy very shortly.

    MyPyramid distinctly called for half of those 6 grain servings to be whole (i.e: oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, barley, etc.), rather than enriched (i.e.: white bread, white rice, etc.).  Strangely, the recommendation wasn’t “at least three whole grain servings,” but simply “three.”

    This is where it all starts to get confusing.

    If one ounce equals 28 grams, and we are asked to make three grain servings (AKA three ounces) whole, then the recommended daily intake of whole grains adds up to 84 grams (28 grams x 3 servings).

    Alas, if you look up whole grain serving recommendations, you’ll see a daily suggestion of 48 grams per day.  Some simple math (48 grams divided by 3 servings) tells us, then, that one serving of whole grains equals 16 grams.

    “But I thought one serving of grain equaled 28 grams.  Why isn’t a serving of whole grains also 28 grams?” you may wonder.

    Well, most whole grain products contain a variety of ingredients; not just flour.  It turns out, in fact, that a one-ounce serving of whole grains contains, on average, approximately 16 grams of flour (the other 12 grams are other ingredients, including yeast, salt, oils, etc).

    Although food labels do not list grams of whole grains, you have two ways of finding this information out.

    One is by claims on the packaging (such as the “Now with 5 grams of whole grains per serving!” stated on boxes of Teddy Grahams).

    Usually, though, these claims are made by products that sprinkle a little whole wheat flour on top of a product that is virtually refined grains.

    Considering that you need at least 48 grams a day, 5 grams is a pretty pathetic figure to bother writing about in such large font.

    The other is via the Whole Grains Council stamp (pictured at top left), which specifically lists the grams of whole grains per serving in a product.

    Some companies are still using old versions of the stamp, which classified foods as “good” (8 – 15 grams of whole grains per serving) or “excellent” (16 or more grams of whole grains per serving).

    What about fiber? How does it tie into all this?  An item high in whole grains is high in fiber, but products high in fiber are not necessarily high in whole grains.

    An Atkins chocolate peanut butter bar, for instance, contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber.  Since this is a low-carb bar, you certainly won’t find whole grains flour anywhere on the ingredient list.

    So how is this value achieved? Thanks to a polysaccharide known as cellulose.  Keep in mind that while this kind of fiber helps keep things moving, there are specific substances in whole grains that have been targeted in nutrition research as helpful in reducing the risk of several diseases.

    So, how do you put all this together without going insane?  Simple. Try to consume 25 – 30 grams of fiber from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds every day.  Generally, the foods that boast “x grams of whole grains per serving!” claims are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

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    Good-For-You Gourmet

    The thought of pasta ultra high in fiber conjures up unpleasant memories of trying chalky soy pasta (AKA hay) for the first time during the 2003 Atkins craze.

    These days, all my pasta dishes at home are made with whole wheat varieties.

    While the high fiber is a plus (a cup provides a butt-kicking seven grams), I genuinely enjoy the more substantial taste and texture they provide.

    Upon first hearing about Fiber Gourmet (a lower-calorie, higher-fiber pasta), I was skeptical.

    I was fully prepared to see “isolated soy protein” among the ingredient list.

    Color me surprised. No wheat alternatives, no sugar alcohols.

    The whole wheat noodles are made of whole wheat flour, modified wheat starch, and wheat gluten.

    The standard Fiber Gourmet noodles are comprised of durum semolina flour, modified wheat starch, and wheat gluten.

    Niacin, iron, thamine, riboflavin, and folic acid are added as they normally are to non-whole grain products.

    A look at the nutrition facts reveals that two ounces of uncooked Fiber Gourmet noodles — which yield one cup when cooked — provide:

    130 calories
    1 gram fat

    120 milligrams sodium

    20 grams fiber

    7 grams protein

    Not only are we talking very high fiber, we are also talking lower-calorie (a standard cup of egg noodles provides 210 calories).

    Wow!

    The back of the bag briefly explains Fiber Gourmet’s process:

    “Through our patent-pending technology, we are able to add high amounts of dietary fiber, while keeping the same taste and texture of standard pasta.”

    My hat goes off to the folks at Fiber Gourmet — their products passed several taste tests.

    I figured I should not be the only evaluator, since my interest in, and passion for, nutrition and healthy foods might mentally program me to automatically give high marks to a high-fiber product.

    So, I turned to more conventional palates in my social circle. Every single one approved.

    Since this is a product very high in fiber, I would not recommend eating two cups in one sitting, particularly if your diet is normally low in fiber.

    As great as fiber is, the “too much of a good thing” concept applies.

    Apart from gastrointestinal discomfort (particularly, again, if intake suddenly increases), an overload of fiber interferes with the uptake of certain minerals, including calcium and iron.

    This is best consumed as a side dish (think no more than one cup when cooked) to accompany a meal. A half cup, for instance, packs in 10 grams of fiber in a mere 60 calorie package.

    Alternatively, when making a large batch of conventional pasta, you can throw in some Fiber Gourmet noodles to up the fiber content in a pinch.

    Interested? Head over to the company’s site to place an order. It’s definitely a Small Bites approved purchase.

    You can also stop by their blog to catch up on product development and sales updates and read answers to consumers’ questions.

    Share

    Good-For-You Gourmet

    The thought of pasta ultra high in fiber conjures up unpleasant memories of trying chalky soy pasta (AKA hay) for the first time during the 2003 Atkins craze.

    These days, all my pasta dishes at home are made with whole wheat varieties.

    While the high fiber is a plus (a cup provides a butt-kicking seven grams), I genuinely enjoy the more substantial taste and texture they provide.

    Upon first hearing about Fiber Gourmet (a lower-calorie, higher-fiber pasta), I was skeptical.

    I was fully prepared to see “isolated soy protein” among the ingredient list.

    Color me surprised. No wheat alternatives, no sugar alcohols.

    The whole wheat noodles are made of whole wheat flour, modified wheat starch, and wheat gluten.

    The standard Fiber Gourmet noodles are comprised of durum semolina flour, modified wheat starch, and wheat gluten.

    Niacin, iron, thamine, riboflavin, and folic acid are added as they normally are to non-whole grain products.

    A look at the nutrition facts reveals that two ounces of uncooked Fiber Gourmet noodles — which yield one cup when cooked — provide:

    130 calories
    1 gram fat

    120 milligrams sodium

    20 grams fiber

    7 grams protein

    Not only are we talking very high fiber, we are also talking lower-calorie (a standard cup of egg noodles provides 210 calories).

    Wow!

    The back of the bag briefly explains Fiber Gourmet’s process:

    “Through our patent-pending technology, we are able to add high amounts of dietary fiber, while keeping the same taste and texture of standard pasta.”

    My hat goes off to the folks at Fiber Gourmet — their products passed several taste tests.

    I figured I should not be the only evaluator, since my interest in, and passion for, nutrition and healthy foods might mentally program me to automatically give high marks to a high-fiber product.

    So, I turned to more conventional palates in my social circle. Every single one approved.

    Since this is a product very high in fiber, I would not recommend eating two cups in one sitting, particularly if your diet is normally low in fiber.

    As great as fiber is, the “too much of a good thing” concept applies.

    Apart from gastrointestinal discomfort (particularly, again, if intake suddenly increases), an overload of fiber interferes with the uptake of certain minerals, including calcium and iron.

    This is best consumed as a side dish (think no more than one cup when cooked) to accompany a meal. A half cup, for instance, packs in 10 grams of fiber in a mere 60 calorie package.

    Alternatively, when making a large batch of conventional pasta, you can throw in some Fiber Gourmet noodles to up the fiber content in a pinch.

    Interested? Head over to the company’s site to place an order. It’s definitely a Small Bites approved purchase.

    You can also stop by their blog to catch up on product development and sales updates and read answers to consumers’ questions.

    Share

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