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Video: Macaroni meals could be making you fat

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    >> truvia natural sweetener. honestly sweet.

    >>> this morning on "take it off today," how healthy is your pasta ? if tonight's dinner plans include diving into a big bowl of linguini, pay attention. that meal could put your waistline in hot water. joy bauer is "today's" nutritionist. good morning to you.

    >> good morning, meredith.

    >> this number that the average american consumes 20 pounds of pasta a year, that's a lot.

    >> we love pasta .

    >> and we tend to like the white stuff, maybe with refined flour , so it's missing a lot of the nutrients, right?

    >> it's unfortunate. here's the story. standard, white pasta is literally refined wheat flour . so, when you look at wheat, there are three critical components. there's the nutrient-rich bran, there's the action-packed, nutrient-rich germ on the inside, and then there's the starchy endosperm. during the milling process, when we make this average, everyday pasta , we strip away all of the key nutrient-rich players, so we're left with the white starch. they do have a handful of b vitamins and iron. that's why we call it enriched wheat flour , but it's only a fraction of the goodness that was originally there from that bran and germ.

    >> plus, we're eating too much of it every time we sit down to have a serving. this is what a proper serving size should look like, right?

    >> yes. this is 1 1/2 cups cooked, and you can push the envelope to about two cups, but it's about 450 calories when you put a nice, clean marinara sauce on it. now --

    >> this is what you get at a restaurant.

    >> an average serving at a restaurant is four cups cooked. and when you put the sauce on, it's well over 1,000 calories. and when you consider it's the equivalent of white bread , you would be sitting down and eating a plate of 12 slices of white bread , with, obviously, a little bit of sauce.

    >> that's disgusting.

    >> but puts it into perspective, right?

    >> absolutely. so, you say you have to go for 100% whole grain pasta , right?

    >> right. the good news is, there are a lot of great strategies for when we make pastas at home. so, this group is 100% whole grain pasta , and it has the bran, the germ, all of the fido nutrients and extra fiber, and we know that whole grains helps drive down the risk of heart disease , blood pressure , type 2 diabetes . and the nice part, because of the fiber, is it will keep you fuller for longer, compared to that big plate of white starch.

    >> yeah, but you know what, it doesn't taste the same.

    >> you know what, admittingly, it is a little bit chewier, it's hardier, it's nuttier, but the good news is that that nuttier flavor sometimes compliments certain sauces. and from brand to brand, they taste pretty different. so, if you didn't like one brand, and i got a huge list on the website --

    >> right, try another?

    >> try another. and you don't have to just stick with whole wheat flour . you could go to things like camute and quinoa, and there's gluten-free brown rice flowers that makes a nice noodle. so explore around, because it's worth it.

    >> what do you need to make sure is on the label?

    >> the simplest way is to look for this stamp that the government puts out. and it should say 100% whole grain. otherwise, you've got to be savvy and check the ingredients, look for the word whole or look for things like oat flour or brown rice flour or quinoa, because those are automatically whole grain, and again, that list is on the website.

    >> okay. what do you think -- i'm sorry, go to this first.

    >> this is another category that's become incredibly popular. it's a whole grain white blend.

    >> white .

    >> so, it's sort of the ultimate compromise. it's a mix between that white regular stuff and that excellent whole grain. and this is good for people who are not ready to meet that leap over to the good stuff --

    >> or kids sometimes, right?

    >> it's very well accepted with kids. and these are the two mainstream brands. and they're pretty much available in mainstream supermarkets and in a lot of different shapes as well.

    >> and what do you think of the colored stuff that's out there?

    >> oh, so, this --

    >> the vegetable, i guess, pasta .

    >> i'm not too hip on this, and here's why. it's made with white pasta and only a tablespoon or two of dried or pureed vegetables. and just to give you an idea of how much, this is a half-cup serving. this is how many vegetables are in there, two baby carrots , and you're getting white flour . so, i'm not picking on these brands, because these very same brands are in the better categories also, but people shouldn't be fooled.

    >> better off to get the whole wheat pasta and put veggies on it, i guess.

    >> definitely. marinara sauce , broccoli. or if you like your pasta plain, eat the vegetables on the side.

    >> did i jump over something? i didn't mean to.

    >> this is an interesting, unique blend. this starts with white pasta , white flour , semolina. it's barilla plus. it's the first of its kind, but i think a lot of brands are going to follow suit, though. what they do is incorporate lentils, check peas, barley, flax seeds . so, even though it starts with a white flour base, it becomes incredibly nutrient-dense from all of the other interesting things that are blended right into the mix. and i also like that it comes in things like macaronis and bow ties , so it's a good one for kids as well.

    >> a lot of options. okay, there you go, the unhealthy pasta and gets better as we go down the line, except for that one. joy

TODAY contributor
updated 4/7/2014 3:16:40 PM ET 2014-04-07T19:16:40

The average American consumes 20 pounds of pasta noodles each year — and most of it is the refined white stuff.

Standard pastas are made with refined wheat flour. During the refining process, the nutrient-rich outer bran shell and inner germ layer are removed from the grain, leaving just the starchy endosperm. This process strips the wheat of much of its fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, leaving you with a much weaker product, nutritionally speaking. Some nutrients, including iron and a handful of B vitamins, are added back during manufacturing (hence the term “enriched flour”), but these represent only a fraction of what is initially removed from the grain.

Here’s the good news: There are plenty of more-nutritious pasta options for you to boil up at home. Here’s my rundown.

100 percent whole-grain
A 100 percent whole-grain pasta includes all three layers of the wheat kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Because nothing is removed during processing, whole-grain pastas contain more natural fiber and micronutrients than their white, refined cousins. And thanks to the extra fiber, whole-grain pastas tend to be more filling than traditional white pasta. What’s more, regularly choosing whole-grains over the refined type is associated with numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Admittedly, whole-grain pasta tends to have a chewier texture and “grainier” taste than regular pasta, but food technology is improving and whole-grain varieties have come a long way in the last few years. My best advice is to make sure you don’t overcook whole-grain pastas; follow the package directions so your pasta doesn’t come out gummy or mushy.

Three ways to determine if a pasta is 100 percent whole-grain:

  • Check the ingredients list. All grains/flours should be preceded by the word “whole.” Brown rice and oat flours are automatically whole-grain.
  • Check the front of package. It should clearly state “100 percent whole-grain” or “100 percent whole-wheat.” Make sure you specifically see “100 percent” on the label!
  • Look for products that contain the orange WHOLE-GRAIN stamp.

Suggested brands to try:
Mueller’s 100 percent whole-wheat pastas
De Cecco 100 percent whole-wheat pastas
Hodgson Mill 100 percent whole-wheat pastas
Eden Organic 100 percent whole-wheat pastas
Heartland 100 percent whole-wheat pastas
Eden Organic 100 percent Whole-Grain Kamut & Quinoa Twisted Pair
Eden Organic 100 percent Whole-Grain Rye Spirals
Hodgson Mill gluten-free brown rice pastas

Whole-wheat-and-white blends
These pastas are made with a mix of whole-wheat and refined flours. Because they are a blend, they are less coarse and chewy than 100 percent whole-wheat varieties, but still offer more nutrition than traditional white pasta. Blends are perfect for families who are trying to make the switch to whole-grain, but want to take “baby steps” and give themselves time to gradually adjust to its taste and texture.

Suggested brands to try:
Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole-Wheat Blend Pasta
Barilla Whole-Grain Pasta

Unique/interesting blends
These pastas are not 100 percent whole-grain, but they have a plethora of healthful ingredients blended in for extra nutrition. For example, the brands listed below contain lentils and beans (which contribute both protein and fiber) and flax seed (which adds heart-healthy omega-3 fats). These brands tend to look and taste more like white pasta than whole-grain or whole-grain blends, so they’re great options for picky kids who avoid eating anything “brown.”

Suggested brands to try:
Barilla Plus
Heartland Plus

Find out if Joy's Life Diet is right for you at JoyBauer.com.

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