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Hunting for whole grain: the best pasta & rice mixes.

You've had a long day. You'd like to have whole grains with your dinner, but you don't have the energy to do much more than boil water. That's when seasoned pasta and rice mixes start to look good.

They've come a long way since Rice-A-Roni first hit the shelves in 1958. These days, it's easier to find mixes that meet our Best Bite criteria for whole grain (100%) and saturated or trans fat. (Mixes have little or no trans.)

But dodging the salt is nearly impossible. Most brands have 700 to 900 milligrams of sodium per cup far above our Best Bite limit of 300mg. That's why all of our Best Bites are unseasoned plain grains (see p.14).

We did find 10 Honorable Mentions. including the ones pictured on this page. They only have to be part whole grain and can have up to 600 mg of sodium, which is really too much for a side dish that has only 250 to 300 calories.

Solution? Season your own whole grain pasta, couscous, or rice using one of our quick "Dump & Simmer" recipes (p.14) or--if you have more time our Healthy Cook recipes (p. 15).

The information for this article was compiled by Tamara Goldis.

How to Succeed ...

You don't get much portobello mushroom in Success Portobello Mushroom Whole Grain Brown Rice Mix. It's mostly brown and wild rice with "portobello seasoning." (Note to vegetarians: the seasoning contains chicken fat.)

But you do get a meaty, fried-rice flavor and "only" 520 milligrams of sodium per cup. The package recommends stirring in chopped roasted red peppers or diced cooked chicken. Add more veggies and those 520 mg of sodium will go further.

You can also look for Uncle Ben's saltier and somewhat-less-interesting Mushroom Recipe Whole Grain & Wild Rice, which clocks in at 590 mg per cup. Or try the mild Southwest flavor of Lundberg's Santa Fe Grill RiceXpress (at 470 mg).

Near Miss

Blood pressure bulletin: Whole grain comes before airy other ingredient in Knorr Lipton Rice Sides ("Made with Whole Grain") and Rice-A-Roni Savory Whole Grains. But each cup packs 760 milligrams of sodium (Rice-A-Roni) or 830 mg (Knorr Lipton).

Better bets are the two Near East Whole Grain Blends that bring sodium levels into the less-outrageous mid-500s. Our favorite: Roasted Pecan & Garlic, which is 53 percent whole grain (brown rice). The rest is pearled (that means refined) red and durum wheat. Garlic lovers might also like the Roasted Garlic, which is 57 percent whole grain (brown rice and bulgur).

The three other Whole Grain Blends are too salty (640 to 780 mg of sodium). But at least tire labels have the decency to tell consumers what percent of the grains are whole.

Wholey Mac

"Good source of whole grain," says the label on Kraft Supermac & Cheese. To many casual package readers, that means no refined flour at all. Our estimate: Supermac may be as little as 10 or 15 percent whole grain.

Instead, try Annie's Organic Whole Wheat Shells & Cheddar. The pasta is 100 percent whole grain, and while the cheese sauce is a tad thinner than some mac-and-cheeses, it's plenty flavorful. Kids may also go for Annie's D.W. Whole Wheat Pasta & Alfredo. (D.W. is a popular character in the "Arthur" cartoon series.)

Sodium still reaches about 550 milligrams, but it could be far worse. Some flavors of Kraft Deluxe are in the 800s, and one (Rotini & White Cheddar) hits 1,450 mg--an entire day's worth.

The Mix Master

Best Bites ([check][check]) are 100% whole grain and have no more than 300 milligrams of sodium. (No mixes qualified.) Honorable Mentions ([check]) aren't air whole grain (though it has to be their first ingredient) and can have up to 600 mg of sodium. Best Bites and Honorable Mentions have no more than 3 grams of saturated fat (pasta with cheese sauce) or 1 gram of sat fat (rice and other mixes).

The numbers in the chart may net match the numbers on the package. That's because we didn't add any optional ingredients, we used 1% milk where any milk was called for, and we used olive oil when any fat was called for (exception: we didn't add oil, butter, or margarine to pasta-with-cheese mixes).

Within each section, products are ranked from least to most sodium, then most to least fiber, then least to most saturated fat.
 Saturated
 + Trans
 Fat
Seasoned Pasta Mixes (about 1 cup cooked) Calories (grams)

 Casbah Couscous-Pilaf,
 Toasted, or regular (1) 170 0
[check] Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Couscous
 with Flax & Soy-Parmesan Cheese 270 0
 Kraft Supermac & Cheese (1) 270 2
 Near East Pasta (1) 250 1
 Knorr Lipton Fiesta Sides-
 Jalapeno Jack 260 1
[check] Annie's Organic Whole Wheat
 Shells & Cheddar 280 3
[check] Annie's D.W. Whole Wheat
 Pasta & Alfredo 270 2
 Annie's Organic or regular-
 except whole wheat (1) 280 2
[check] Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat
 Macaroni & Cheese 260 1
 Near East Couscous (1) 220 1
 Manischewitz Couscous-Chicken
 Flavored 210 0
 Kraft Macaroni & Cheese-except
 Supermac & Cheese (1) 270 1
 Marrakesh Express Couscous (1) 240 1
 Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Couscous
 with Flax & Soy-Garlic & Basil 260 0
 Back to Nature-regular or Organic (1) 250 1
 Annie's Creamy Deluxe (1) 300 6
 Annie's Organic Butter & Herb 250 2
 Knorr Lipton Made With Whole
 Grain Pasta Sides (1) 230 1
 Pasta Roni Homestyle Deluxe (1) 250 2
 Simply Organic (1) 250 1
 Knorr Lipton Asian Sides (1)
 or Italian Sides (1) 250 1
 Knorr Lipton Pasta Sides-regular (1) 240 2
 Pasta Roni World Flavors (1) 270 2
 Kraft Deluxe-except Rotini &
 White Cheddar (1) 310 3
 Pasta Roni-regular (1) 230 2
 Kraft Velveeta (1) 370 5
 Kraft Deluxe-Rotini & White Cheddar 390 2

 Sodium
 Fiber (milli-
Seasoned Pasta Mixes (about 1 cup cooked) (grams) grams)

 Casbah Couscous-Pilaf,
 Toasted, or regular (1) 2 410
[check] Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Couscous
 with Flax & Soy-Parmesan Cheese 6 480
 Kraft Supermac & Cheese (1) 3 510
 Near East Pasta (1) 2 510
 Knorr Lipton Fiesta Sides-
 Jalapeno Jack 2 530
[check] Annie's Organic Whole Wheat
 Shells & Cheddar 5 540
[check] Annie's D.W. Whole Wheat
 Pasta & Alfredo 5 560
 Annie's Organic or regular-
 except whole wheat (1) 1 570
[check] Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat
 Macaroni & Cheese 6 580
 Near East Couscous (1) 3 580
 Manischewitz Couscous-Chicken
 Flavored 1 580
 Kraft Macaroni & Cheese-except
 Supermac & Cheese (1) 2 610
 Marrakesh Express Couscous (1) 1 620
 Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Couscous
 with Flax & Soy-Garlic & Basil 6 630
 Back to Nature-regular or Organic (1) 1 650
 Annie's Creamy Deluxe (1) 3 710
 Annie's Organic Butter & Herb 2 720
 Knorr Lipton Made With Whole
 Grain Pasta Sides (1) 4 730
 Pasta Roni Homestyle Deluxe (1) 2 750
 Simply Organic (1) 2 780
 Knorr Lipton Asian Sides (1)
 or Italian Sides (1) 2 790
 Knorr Lipton Pasta Sides-regular (1) 1 790
 Pasta Roni World Flavors (1) 2 830
 Kraft Deluxe-except Rotini &
 White Cheddar (1) 2 850
 Pasta Roni-regular (1) 2 890
 Kraft Velveeta (1) 2 1,080
 Kraft Deluxe-Rotini & White Cheddar 2 1,450

 Saturated
 + Trans
 Fat
Seasoned Rice Mixes (about 1 cup cooked) Calories (grams)

 Lundberg Organic Rice Sensations (1) 230 1
 A Taste of Thai (1) 180 0
[check] Lundberg's RiceXpress Made with
 Brown Rice-Santa Fe Grill 260 1
 Casbah Pilaf (1) 160 0
 Thai Kitchen Jasmine Rice (1) 180 1
[check] Success Whole Grain Brown
 Rice-Portobello Mushroom 280 1
[check] Near East Taboule 210 1
[check] Near East Whole Grain Blends-Roasted
 Garlicor Roasted Pecan & Garlic (2) 240 1
 Goya-except add seafood varieties (1) 190 1
[check] Uncle Ben's Whole Grain &
 Wild Rice-Mushroom Recipe 200 0
 Pacific Ready-To-Serve (1) 230 0
 Near East Whole Grain Blends-except
 Roasted Garlic or Roasted Pecan &
 Garlic (1) 230 1
 Success Whole Grain Brown Rice-
 except Portobello Mushroom (1) 290 2
 Lundberg's RiceXpress Made with Brown
 Rice-except Santa Fe Grill (1) 250 1
 Near East-Rice or Rice Pilaf (1) 250 1
 Annie's Organic Cheddar Broccoli 280 2
 Marrakesh Express Risotto (1) 250 1
 Knorr Lipton Cajun Sides (1) 260 1
 Alessi Risotto (1) 220 0
 Near East Long Grain & Wild Rice (1) 230 1
 Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild
 Rice-except Whole Grain & Wild
 Mushroom Recipe (1) 200 0
 Seeds of Change Organic Blends
 (mostly whole grain) (1) 270 1
 Rice-A-Roni Savory Whole Grains (1) 260 1
 Knorr Lipton Asian Sides (1) 230 0
 Uncle Ben's Country Inn (1) 240 1
 Near East Creative
 Grains-Creamy Parmesan 290 2
 Manischewitz-Pilaf or Risotto (2) 200 1
 Vigo (1) 190 0
 Uncle Ben's Flavorful Rice
 (1) or Ready Rice (1) 230 0
 Knorr Lipton Fiesta Sides (1) 250 0
 Old El Paso (1) 290 1
 Knorr Lipton Made With Whole
 Grain Rice Sides (1) 240 1
 Knorr Lipton Rice Sides-regular (1) 230 1
 Carolina or Mahatma (1) 240 1
 Rice-A-Roni Express (1) or regular (1) 270 1
 Buitoni Risotto (1) 330 2
 Rice-A-Roni Cheesy Pleasers (1) 350 4
 Lundberg Risotto-Organic
 or regular (1) 320 1
 Zatarain's New Orleans Style-
 except add meat varieties (1) 260 1
 Zatarain's New Orleans Style
 Ready-to-Serve (1) 290 1

 Sodium
 Fiber (milli-
Seasoned Rice Mixes (about 1 cup cooked) (grams) grams)

 Lundberg Organic Rice Sensations (1) 3 310
 A Taste of Thai (1) 1 400
[check] Lundberg's RiceXpress Made with
 Brown Rice-Santa Fe Grill 3 470
 Casbah Pilaf (1) 2 470
 Thai Kitchen Jasmine Rice (1) 1 470
[check] Success Whole Grain Brown
 Rice-Portobello Mushroom 3 520
[check] Near East Taboule 10 540
[check] Near East Whole Grain Blends-Roasted
 Garlicor Roasted Pecan & Garlic (2) 5 560
 Goya-except add seafood varieties (1) 2 570
[check] Uncle Ben's Whole Grain &
 Wild Rice-Mushroom Recipe 3 590
 Pacific Ready-To-Serve (1) 1 590
 Near East Whole Grain Blends-except
 Roasted Garlic or Roasted Pecan &
 Garlic (1) 5 690
 Success Whole Grain Brown Rice-
 except Portobello Mushroom (1) 3 690
 Lundberg's RiceXpress Made with Brown
 Rice-except Santa Fe Grill (1) 4 700
 Near East-Rice or Rice Pilaf (1) 2 700
 Annie's Organic Cheddar Broccoli 2 700
 Marrakesh Express Risotto (1) 1 700
 Knorr Lipton Cajun Sides (1) 3 710
 Alessi Risotto (1) 1 710
 Near East Long Grain & Wild Rice (1) 2 740
 Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild
 Rice-except Whole Grain & Wild
 Mushroom Recipe (1) 1 740
 Seeds of Change Organic Blends
 (mostly whole grain) (1) 4 750
 Rice-A-Roni Savory Whole Grains (1) 3 760
 Knorr Lipton Asian Sides (1) 2 760
 Uncle Ben's Country Inn (1) 1 760
 Near East Creative
 Grains-Creamy Parmesan 3 770
 Manischewitz-Pilaf or Risotto (2) 3 780
 Vigo (1) 2 780
 Uncle Ben's Flavorful Rice
 (1) or Ready Rice (1) 1 790
 Knorr Lipton Fiesta Sides (1) 2 800
 Old El Paso (1) 2 820
 Knorr Lipton Made With Whole
 Grain Rice Sides (1) 3 830
 Knorr Lipton Rice Sides-regular (1) 1 850
 Carolina or Mahatma (1) 2 860
 Rice-A-Roni Express' or regular (1) 2 900
 Buitoni Risotto (1) 1 910
 Rice-A-Roni Cheesy Pleasers (1) 2 950
 Lundberg Risotto-Organic
 or regular (1) 2 1,030
 Zatarain's New Orleans Style-
 except add meat varieties (1) 3 1,060
 Zatarain's New Orleans Style
 Ready-to-Serve (1) 2 1,070

[check] Honorable Mention. (1) Average of all varieties.
(2) Average of the products listed.

Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet) Saturated + Trans Fat:
20 grams.

Fiber: at least 25 grams. Sodium: 1,500 milligrams.

Sources: companies, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The use of information from this article for commercial purposes
is strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:1896
Previous Article:Calorie overkill: quiz.
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