In a previous article, we looked at how to make healthier bread choices. I discussed how refined flour is stripped of its nutrients and then “enriched” with lab-created versions of the nutrients. I also shared how flour can spike blood sugar levels and suggested some healthier bread choices. In this newsletter, I’m going to look at traditional starch options like pasta, rice and potatoes to see why pasta comes out as the best choice.

I want to talk briefly about why the Glycemic Index is a helpful guide (but not an absolute rule) and look at how it applies to bread to provide context when we look at how pasta, potatoes and rice measure up.

As I discussed in the bread section, certain foods spike blood sugar levels. The Glycemic Index is the scientific system that measures and monitors those increases across all carbohydrates. The lower the number, generally speaking, the better because that means the food will be digested more slowly, will result in less insulin spiking and will provide more protection from diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, heart disease and obesity.

In addition to helping you to avoid certain health conditions, lower Glycemic Index (GI) foods also aid in weight control. A study of overweight teenagers eating a low GI breakfast showed that they ate 45% fewer calories throughout the day than when they began their day with a high GI breakfast. Foods that stimulate insulin have been shown to increase calorie consumption at the next meal and research shows that if calorie intake is equal, eating lower GI food will result in weight loss.

Problems with the Glycemic Index

But there are a number of problems with relying completely on the index as a food guide. First, GI food measurements are imprecise. Generally speaking, the test is done several times and the results are an average of those outcomes.

For example, a baked russet potato has been shown to have a GI value as low as 56 and as high as 111. As a result, it is listed in the high 70s on most indexes. The GI index for fruit increases as it ripens and changes depending on the food processing method and time. Grinding or cooking will increase the GI as will cooking for longer periods of time.

The GI of any one food is also altered significantly based on what it is combined with. I recommend eating healthy fat, protein and fiber with every meal because it reduces insulin spiking and decreases the likelihood that higher sugar foods will be stored as fat. But how much you eat matters too: Some foods have a high GI but you likely wouldn’t eat a lot of them, so their overall “load” is lower, while others may be lower, but you are more likely to consume a good portion. And lastly, individual responses to carbohydrate digestion vary, as do insulin responses, and those responses have been shown to vary based on the time of day the food is consumed.

As a result, the Glycemic Index can be a helpful tool but should not be relied upon in absolute. It is helpful for making relative comparisons and trade-offs. Something that falls in the 80s is a less healthy food choice than something that lands in the 40s. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to minimize consumption of foods with scores over 55 on the GI.

But some of those foods have great nutritional benefits, so that doesn’t mean you should never eat them. Instead, consume them in moderate portions, on occasion, combined with fiber, healthy fats and protein. It’s easy to see why a processed bakery product might need to be eliminated, but a potato or watermelon can be eaten in moderation.

Now let’s talk about how the Glycemic Index applies to pasta and rice compared to bread.

Bread, Potatoes, Rice and Pasta

In addition to being nutrient devoid, traditional white bread and most whole wheat bread (made from enriched white flour) is high on the Glycemic Index. Typical white or wheat bread and bagels fall in the 70s, while pita bread lands in the high 50s. I love a good French bread as much as the next person, but baguettes fall in the mid-90s!

As you go toward more whole grain products, the Glycemic Index declines, with multigrain bread in the high 40s and sprouted grain breads in the low to mid-40s. Whole grain, multi-grain and sprouted grains are lower GI choices that also offer more nutrient value. (Ezekiel bread, for example, is a complete protein source offering all nine essential amino acids and 18 amino acids in total, all from plants; it’s more than just bread.)

It seems logical that pastas would go much the same way as breads, with traditional white and wheat pastas being significantly higher glycemically than whole grain and sprouted grain versions. But that is not the case.

Earlier I said that white bread and baked potatoes have GI scores in the 70s, but there are some better potato choices: boiled, new or sweet potatoes are all in the mid-50s. In addition, brown rice comes in at 55 on the GI, while white rice shows up between 56-64. (Note: Though the Glycemic Index between brown and white rice may seem close, brown rice has much greater nutrient density and is a better food choice.)

Even though some potatoes and brown rice have levels in the mid-50s on the GI, which makes them viable options on occasion, pastas have an even lower GI. During processing, ungelatinized starch granules get trapped in the sponge-like gluten (protein) network inside the pasta dough. This does not occur in the processing of bread or rice and as a result, pastas tend to have a lower Glycemic Index overall.

Traditional spaghetti comes in at 41 on the GI scale, with its whole-wheat version at 37, making these clear winners, with a few caveats.

An Exception: Brown Rice Pasta

There is one surprising exception: brown rice pasta. Brown rice pasta comes in at a whopping 92 on the Glycemic Index: A surprise to me since brown rice itself is not high on the GI and whole grain brown rice is a nutrient-rich food. I’m still researching what it is about the transformation from rice to pasta that makes brown rice so high on GI scale. But until I learn more, avoid brown rice pasta and stick to traditional pastas.

I do continue to recommend whole grain brown rice as a healthy, nutrient-laden option on occasion; it’s got a host of health benefits and comes in at 55 on the GI scale. (Asian noodles also have a relatively low Glycemic Index, so I recommend experimenting with udon, rice vermicelli or hokkein for variety.)

As always, try to limit serving size and frequency; we Americans tend to eat enormous plates full of pasta whereas Europeans eat much smaller portions. And always cook your pasta al dente: The longer you cook it, the higher the Glycemic Index, as the gelatinous protein network breaks down. (One GI table showed that spaghetti boiled for 10-15 minutes came in at 44, but when boiled for only five minutes, it dropped down to 38. Regardless of the exact cooking time, which will vary by product, be sure not to overcook. Try for that al dente firmness that leaves more of the protein intact.)

When you do eat pasta, combine it with healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates to create a balanced meal; here’s where fresh homemade vegetable sauces made with healthy fats can take your meal to a whole new health level. And here’s a tip if you are concerned about blood sugar: add some acid like vinegar or lemon to help lower the GI of the meal.

While you do get some additional nutrient value from a whole grain, multi-grain or sprouted grain pasta, the glycemic difference of whole wheat is not significant versus traditional pastas. Some of the newer whole grain and sprouted grain versions have not even been tested yet and while their scores may be lower, the baseline for traditional pasta is pretty good to begin with.

While I encourage you to experiment and try some of these nutrient-rich grain products — variety in food choices is always a good thing — if the taste does not appeal to you, it’s OK to indulge in some traditional pasta on occasion. Mangia!


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal and a free copy of Inger’s bestselling ebook at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


Arsenic has been used as a poison for centuries; a single dose of inorganic arsenic about the weight of a postage stamp would be enough to kill you. But now concerns have been raised about chronic long-term exposure to smaller amounts of arsenic through drinking water, juices such as apple and grape juice, and foods such as rice and rice-based cereals and beverages.

While the EPA regulates the arsenic levels in bottled water and tap water, no such limits exist for the presence of arsenic in other foods and beverages. You may have seen the recent reports of high levels of arsenic in rice and rice products (including cereal and baby formula) as well as the apple and grape juices kids so love that Consumer Reports released. In this newsletter, I want to share some of those results with you along with some things you can do to minimize your exposure to this brain-altering toxic and carcinogenic substance.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance present in minerals in our earth, but the major threat to our food supply comes from our own industrial and agricultural policies. According to the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. is the leading user of arsenic in the world today, using 1.6 million tons, more than half of which has been used since the mid-1960s. Ingredients made from or containing arsenic are used in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth, fertilizer from poultry waste is used on crops, and residues from lead-arsenate insecticides — which were used heavily in cotton fields, orchards, and vineyards until they were banned in the 1980s — remain in the soil.

Arsenic was also used to pressure treat wood that was used to build playgrounds and decks and, while it was banned in 2003, that wood is often recycled as mulch and can contribute to arsenic in groundwater. Copper and lead are produced by heating arsenic-containing ores that are released into the environment through coal-fired power plants and smelters. As a result, the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that we release three times as much arsenic through our practices than would occur through nature.

There are two kinds of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic is not considered to be the threat to humans that inorganic is, though scientists are beginning to question that. They are discovering that there are circumstances in which organic arsenic can become inorganic and cause concerns including groundwater contamination. But the primary topic of conversation these days is around inorganic arsenic, which is a known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer.

Inorganic arsenic can also lead to increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, skin lesions, high blood pressure and immune deficiencies. Chronic low-level exposure can also mimic chronic fatigue syndrome and other ailments. According to Dr. Michael Harbut, Chief of the Environmental Cancer Program at Karmanos Institute, “I suspect there is an awful lot of chronic, low-level arsenic poisoning going on that’s never properly diagnosed.” Most of us, including most physicians, would never think to test for arsenic levels.

Another scientist, Joshua Hamilton, PhD a toxicologist specializing in arsenic research put it this way, “People sometimes say, ‘If arsenic exposure is so bad, why don’t you see more people sick or dying from it?’ But the many diseases likely to be increased by exposure even at relatively low levels are so common already that its effects are overlooked simply because no one has ever looked carefully for the connection.”

We all know that children’s developing brains and immune systems are even more susceptible so exposure in utero or in early childhood not only increases the risk of cancer later in life but can lead to lasting damage to brain function and an increased susceptibility to other diseases and conditions. Which is why the initial report that covered arsenic in juice caused so much concern.

The FDA set a limit for arsenic of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for tap water and bottled water and there is a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water for lead content but there is no such limit for juice. Many believe the limit for juice should be even lower due to its consumption by children and some scientists are calling for a limit of 3 ppb in juice. Consumer Reports investigated and tested a sampling of apple and grape juices and found that 10% of the sample had arsenic levels above 10 ppb. One in four or 25% had lead levels above the bottled water standard of 5 ppb.

In the sampling Consumer Reports conducted, levels of arsenic in apple juice ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb and grape juices ranged from 5.9 to 24.7 ppb. In addition, they found lead levels as much as 13.6 ppb in apple juice and 15.9 ppb in grape juice, far above the 5ppb standard for water. The apple juice brand names exceeding 10 ppb included Mott’s Apple & Eve and Walmart’s Great Value brand. Welch’s and Walgreen’s grape juice also each had a sample that exceeded 10 ppb.

Now a new report focusing on rice and rice-based products such as cereal, rice cakes, and rice milk has raised concerns. While arsenic is often found in fruits and vegetables (and their juices), rice is the next greatest source of arsenic in our diets due to the fact that rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water more effectively than other crops. Rice is grown in “water-flooded conditions” enabling arsenic to be more readily absorbed and stored.

Most American rice (76%) is grown in the south in states such as Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas, former cotton country. To combat the boll weevil beetle, arsenic-laden pesticides were commonly used and their residues remain in the soil today. Rice tested from these states had higher arsenic levels than rice grown elsewhere. Within every brand tested, brown rice tested higher for arsenic than its white counterpart, because white rice processing removes the outer surface layers, removing some of the arsenic as well.

Rice measurements are different than liquids; some scientists are suggesting that a limit of 200 ppb for white rice and 300 ppb for brown rice be enacted. However, these are total intake standards for adults. Many Hispanic and Asian cultures eat rice daily (sometimes more than one serving a day) and scientists wondered how much impact rice had vs. arsenic from other food sources.

They excluded anyone who had eaten seafood within 24 hours of their study (seafood contains an organic form of arsenic called arsenobetaine) as well as anyone whose urine contained arsenobetaine and focused only on inorganic arsenic. Scientists then examined 3633 people and found that those who ate one rice food item a day had a urinary arsenic level 44 % greater than those who did not, and people who ate two rice products a day had levels 70% higher than those who did not.

Beyond eating rice itself, this includes rice cakes, rice cereals, rice milk and any rice-based food. Regardless of ethnicity, if you eat rice daily or snack on rice cakes or rice cereals, you are likely exceeding the acceptable standards just on this food source alone, let alone consumption through fruits and vegetables and juices.

In addition to children’s juice consumption, concern has been raised about baby foods containing up to 23 ppb per jar and dried infant rice cereals with arsenic levels from 60-160 ppb. These are the first foods an infant eats and even small amounts could cause brain and endocrine concerns.

Among rice cereals, Consumer Reports found that the arsenic levels varied greatly even among samples of the same product. For example, they found a total arsenic level of 329 ppb in Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice cereal, and yet another sample of the same product showed arsenic levels of 97.7 ppb. This resulted in a serving of .8 to 1.3 micrograms of inorganic arsenic. Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice cereal had 1.7 to 2.7 micrograms of arsenic per serving, even though its total arsenic levels were lower ranging from 149-274 ppb.

Ready to eat cereals were not immune either. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies fared best at 2.3-2.7 micrograms per serving (which is still cause for concern especially for kids who are eating it daily) while Barbara’s Brown Rice Crispies came in at 5.9-6.7 micrograms per serving.

For infants, as well as for us all, the recommendation is to limit rice and rice-based products to one serving a day and mix in plenty of other grains such as wheat, oatmeal, quinoa, and amaranth. While all rice contains some arsenic, in general, rice from California, India and Thailand contain less arsenic than rice from the US South.

Reduce juice consumption especially for children. This is a good idea anyway, as juices are full of sugars and little fiber so they act much like soda in a child’s system. While buying organic juice is important for many other reasons we have already discussed, including fluoride levels in the juices, organic juices aren’t immune from arsenic. If the fruit was grown in soil heavy in arsenic, it will still exist in the juice, even if no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used. Nevertheless, if you are going to drink juice, buy organic.

Vary your vegetables so that you are eating many different kinds from different sources, organic where possible. Clean them thoroughly, especially potatoes and other vegetables whose skin is consumed. Choose organic chicken as non-organic chicken is often fed chicken feed that contains arsenic. And if you are on well water, be sure to have it tested regularly.

In Maine, my home state, half of the population relies on private wells and testing has found arsenic levels as high as 3100 ppb in well water there. A recent Texas study showed that even low-level exposure over the long-term from groundwater in rural Texas resulted in poor test scores in language, memory and other brain functions.

More and more research is emerging that even if you don’t consume excessive amounts but simply ingest smaller amounts through long-term habits and conditions, the effects are cumulative. So if you are concerned about exposure, for you or your child, ask your doctor to test for urinary arsenic levels.

To see the full report and test results on apple and grape juice, go to

To see the results for rice and rice-based products, go to

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


With all the focus recently on pink-slime and ammonia and the health impact of red meat, we’ve been talking much more than usual about meat these past few months. Today I’d like to talk about a fantastic non-meat protein source that has been a staple in my home for years: quinoa.

Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is gaining attention for several important reasons: it is a complete protein source that can be a big help to vegetarians looking to eat a balanced diet; it’s a great alternative for those looking to cut back on meat but still ingest protein; it’s a delicious dish for those with gluten intolerance or trying to reduce grains or carbohydrates in their diets; it’s a great alternative to oats as a hearty low-calorie meal as it releases energy slowly so you stay satisfied longer; and it is a versatile option that can go from main dish, to side to salad and even to breakfast with ease. It’s a go-to staple in my pantry.

While quinoa is often used as a substitute for rice or other grains, it is actually a seed and not a grain. Prized by the Incas for thousands of years, it was known as “the mother grain” and has long been a foundational element in the diet of people in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Columbia and Bolivia. Quinoa is actually related to beets, spinach and swiss chard, not grain, but it can play the role of grain in meals as it has a slight crunch and a mild nutty flavor.

What makes quinoa so special is that it is a complete protein that contains nine essential amino acids as well as minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber. Quinoa contains the amino acid Lysine, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, which many of us are deficient in, and much more.  Where else can you get all that in one food?

You can find quinoa in most stores in the organic section, some stores carry it on the shelf near rice, and it’s always available in stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. There are different kinds of quinoa and it’s really a taste preference: the white quinoa is milder and really has little flavor on its own, but that can be good if you want to impart flavors from your cooking into it, and the red quinoa is a little nuttier in flavor and stands a little more solidly on its own. (We buy and use both depending on the meal.)

Most quinoa you buy in stores is pre-rinsed, as the exterior has bitter-tasting coatings known as saponins that need to be removed. Still, it’s a good idea to rinse or soak it briefly before cooking. If the quinoa has not been rinsed, then you need to soak it for several hours, changing the water periodically and re-soaking, or rinse it with water for several minutes using a strainer or a cheesecloth.

Once rinsed, you cook quinoa much as you’d cook rice: a 2:1 ratio of liquid to seed. While quinoa is easily prepared using water, some people like to cook it in chicken or vegetable broth to impart a bit more flavor. Bring it to a boil, then reduce and cover for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. (If you have a rice cooker, you can cook quinoa in it just as you would rice.)

Quinoa is very mild-tasting on its own, but it will take on the flavor of whatever you cook it in, so liberal use of spices and flavors may be in order, unless you are like my daughter who likes it plain and more bland!

For those of you who know me, I rarely cook with recipes, so I can’t give you any precise recipes that I can say are tried and true. I create and innovate and match flavors or spices based on what feels good or appeals to me on that day, and I am always coming up with new ways to use quinoa. But for those of you looking for some ideas, I’ll share a few of the ways we use it that everyone in my family agrees upon.

The most basic way we prepare it is to cook it with a healthy amount of garlic and basil. Then when it’s done, I toss in a little Himalayan salt, some pepper, and a spoon or two of olive oil. That makes a great side dish or rice substitute. (You can also use quinoa to make pilaf or stuffed peppers etc).

Another way we like to make it is a play on sausage, peppers and onions. While the quinoa is cooking down, I sauté peppers and onions (though you can throw in any veggies that appeal to you) and when it’s finished cooking, I mix with the peppers and onions. The quinoa takes the place of the “bun” and it’s a vegetarian version reminiscent of the ballpark classic.

Add your own spices (garlic is a staple for us, along with Himalayan salt and some pepper) and if you want to add meat, you can toss in some chicken or organic chicken sausage for a more authentic variation. I also often add in tomatoes, making it more Italian in style, either using chopped fresh tomatoes or some chopped tomatoes in a box (I use the Pomi brand).

We also like to make a quinoa salad, usually with red quinoa. While the quinoa is cooking, I chop tomatoes, avocado, and cucumbers (we love the Persian kind, but any kind will do) and throw them in a bowl with a little Himalayan salt and some olive oil. Once the quinoa is done, I toss the whole bowl in, salt, oil and all. This makes a delicious alternative to a garden salad with your meal: light and refreshing and my kids scoop it up.

Quinoa works well with just about any veggies you have around, either separate instead of rice or all thrown in together. I often toss in a little olive oil after it is done cooking or in the final minute to get some healthy fat into the meal as well as to make the quinoa a little more moist if it’s sat on my stove for a bit while I was preparing other things.

The best part about quinoa is experimenting and making your own combinations and substitutions. Lastly, we always make extra and keep some in the fridge for breakfast as an alternative to oatmeal. In the morning, quinoa satisfies you without a heavy feeling and releases slowly, just like oatmeal. Mix in seeds, nuts, berries, fruit, and/or a little maple syrup or raw honey and it’s a healthy breakfast in a bowl, and one that is easy to transport if you need to eat on the run.

Let me know how you like to eat it!


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!



Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

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