Week of January 26, 2009
Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: My family and I are having trouble switching to whole-grain pasta. Any tips?

A: Congratulations on working toward including more whole grains in your diet, since they offer more vitamins, fiber and protective phytochemicals than refined-grain choices. The taste and texture of 100 percent whole-wheat pasta is decidedly different than traditional refined pasta, and the switch poses more problems for some people than others. A few tips to help ease the transition:

  1. First, select whole-grain pasta in thin shapes, like spaghetti or perhaps spiraled fusilli. These varieties often come across with a less assertive flavor and texture.
  2. Second, make sure you don’t overcook whole-grain pasta. Even one extra minute can turn it mushy or gummy, a process that happens much faster than when you cook refined-grain pasta.
  3. Next, instead of teaming it with a soft, sweet marinara sauce, pair whole-grain pasta with a hearty, flavorful sauce, some aged grated cheese and plenty of vegetables. You may also enjoy whole-grain pasta more in dishes like lasagna, layered and baked with sauce, cheese and vegetables.
  4. Finally, experiment with different brands. Some companies make partially whole-grain pastas. At the very least, choosing these is a step in the right direction.

Q: Can you help me plan a balanced meal with choices from a salad bar?

A: Salad bars are a terrific way to help people make vegetables and fruits a large part of meals, a practice recommended by organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research. Whether or not salad bars can supply a nutritionally complete meal depends on how they are stocked. Besides vegetables and fruits, salad bars usually offer rolls, breadsticks or crackers for complex carbohydrates; choose whole-grain versions when available. Also make sure to include enough protein. Good sources include any one of the following (or smaller portions of several): a half-cup of kidney or garbanzo beans, turkey, tuna, chopped hardboiled egg or meat; one-third cup of nuts or sunflower seeds; or a cup of bean or lentil soup. If you are eating at the salad bar as a strategy to control weight, a note of caution: Not everything on a salad bar is low-calorie. The fat and calories from regular salad dressing and deli-style salads loaded with mayonnaise or oily marinades can add up quickly.

Q: I read that phosphorus works together with calcium to make strong bones. What should I eat to make sure I get enough phosphorus?

A: Phosphorus is a mineral essential not only for bone structure, but also for cell structure and proper function of essential enzymes. It is widely distributed in many foods, especially dairy products, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, whole grains and legumes. Food additives in soft drinks and bakery products add even more. So don’t worry about getting enough – phosphorus is so widespread in our food supply that a deficiency is very unusual.

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