If you’re resolving to eat more whole grains in the New Year, a good place to start might be with some whole grain pasta. In the past, our main decision in buying pasta was shape – did we want sinewy strands, or curly corkscrews? Nowadays, we’ve got delicious whole wheat pastas or noodles with spinach or tomato added, and we’ve got pasta made with rice, corn or quinoa. So how do these different noodles stack up?
Most people buy regular pasta – it’s made from a type of high-protein wheat – durum or semolina – that gives pasta its characteristic yellow hue. A serving – which is defined on the package as 2 ounces of dry pasta (about a cup cooked, depending on the shape) -– has about 200 calories, a trace of fat, about 2 grams of fiber and around 40 grams of carbohydrate. Not a bad deal, but if you switch to whole wheat pasta, you’ll save about 20 calories and more than triple your fiber per serving. That’s a great deal, nutritionally speaking. And those numbers look more impressive when you consider what people typically eat – not one cup of cooked pasta, but more like three.
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It really hurts me to throw away food. Aside from the money that’s being wasted, I’m ashamed to be tossing out food when I know there are those who don’t have enough nutritious food to eat. I felt even worse after I read a recent report1 describing the impact of food waste on the environment. After calculating how much energy it takes to produce our food – and how much of that food we toss out – it was estimated that we could save the energy equivalent of about 350 billion barrels of oil if we didn’t waste any food.
Producing food costs a lot of energy – 10% or more of total US energy consumption goes towards food production. It takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, package, prepare, preserve and distribute a year’s worth of food.
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Generally, this isn’t the time of year that most people are watching their weight – because if they were, they’d probably be watching it go up. But you’d be surprised. It’s not unusual for people to call me in a panic mid-December – realizing they’ve got a big New Year’s eve event coming up – and wondering what they can realistically accomplish in a couple of weeks. Of course, this comes up at other times of the year, too. An upcoming wedding, a cruise or a graduation – all can spark the question: How much can I lose in a couple of weeks?
Let me start by saying that there’s no simple answer that applies to everyone. For one thing, a lot depends on a person’s starting weight. The larger a person is, the more calories it takes for them to maintain their weight. So heavier people can cut their usual calorie intake back quite a bit, and will usually lose more weight in two weeks than a smaller person will.
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It’s been said that there are no bad foods, only bad diets. The idea is this: if we simply ate a wide range of foods – mostly healthy foods – and didn’t eat too much, we’d all be better off. But even though most people might understand the concept of a diet based on variety, balance and moderation, for many it’s still difficult to put into practice.
We crave variety. Humans evolved in surroundings overrun with a huge range of plant foods. And the drive to consume them was nature’s way to ensure that nutrient needs would be met. We carry this same urge with us today – which would still serve us well if we were merely selecting from a spread of edible plants. But we’re not. We’re faced with way too many food choices – not all of them good for us – and studies show that the more choices we have, the more we eat.
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When we hear that an individual is malnourished, most of us would picture someone who’s starving – a wisp of a person who appears to be simply wasting away. Certainly, people who lack adequate nutrients and calories are malnourished, but malnutrition can exist even when calories are plentiful – it just requires too much food with little nutritional value. So here’s a new word for your vocabulary: “malnubesity”. A merger of malnutrition and obesity sounds like a conflict in terms, but, in fact, malnubesity is real – many of us are overfat and undernourished.
How did we get here? We need to look at our evolutionary history for an explanation. Our prehistoric ancestors needed to eat a lot of food in order to meet their calorie needs. For one thing, they were extremely active – burning thousands of calories a day in their constant quest for food. And, their plant-rich diet didn’t have abundant sources of concentrated calories – think added fats and sugars – like we do today.
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