DEAR DR. BLONZ: My partner and I are having an ongoing discussion over his diet. He eats one of those "meal-replacement" bars for breakfast and lunch, has a piece of fruit every now and then, and eats nothing that great for dinner. He thinks he has nutrition covered. I tell him that the meal replacement bars are not a substitute for real food, but the fact that he is active, in good health and not overweight leads him to argue that he is doing just fine. I think he needs better variety and certainly more fiber in his diet, but I am sure there are other aspects as well. -- Y.I., San Jose, Calif.
DEAR Y.I.: Your partner is doing some good things and his active lifestyle will help him, big time. Meal-replacement bars have their place as an occasional substitute for real food, but we need to be reasonable. Whole foods provide a symphony of healthful compounds, and we have only begun to determine which ones (and in what quantities) are the key players. Plants have it all figured out. Over the millennia, they have evolved to contain the right combinations of nutrients and phytochemicals to maximize their chances for survival as a species.
Granted, we are not plants, but it seems foolhardy to turn to a human-designed processed food product and think that all the bases are covered. The product might serve as a short-term solution in certain situations, such as an easily portable food for hikers or as a more nutritious snack than those found in vending machines. But let's face it: Chronic disease can sneak up like a thief in the night. To protect ourselves, we need well-rounded nutrition. You mention dietary fiber, but there are many attributes to the foods we eat, which is why variety is an essential part of any healthy diet. With few exceptions, the best approach is to rely on real, whole foods -- not on processed products like meal-replacement bars.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am on a low-carbohydrate diet and have lost 30 pounds so far, but I miss eating pasta sometimes. I have come across veggie pasta with semolina flour, but the package doesn't have a nutrition index. What is semolina flour, and is it OK to have on a low-carb diet? -- R.M., San Pedro, Calif.
DEAR R.M.: Semolina is a coarse flour that is used in traditional pasta dough. It is made by milling whole kernels of durum wheat. Semolina flour is relatively high in protein (gluten) and it absorbs less water, giving pasta -- as well as pizza dough -- its characteristic texture when cooked. The semolina flour from durum wheat is used in Italy to make commercial pasta. It is also used to make couscous. The carbohydrate content will be in the same range as other wheat flours, which is around 100 grams per cup.
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