Let's face it – pasta is delicious and is a really convenient, simple and low-cost base for a meal. Quality low-glycemic load carbohydrates should make up the bulk of your carb intake, to help avoid rapid spikes in your blood sugar levels. While pasta doesn't usually fit the “healthy” bill and can spike your blood sugar if you eat too much, there are some things to know and look for if you (like my Italian pasta-loving self) want to have your pasta and eat it too.
It is good to read the label on your pasta box to see what's in there. Most pasta is made with bleached white flour and enriched with a few vitamins and minerals (to make up for all the nutrients that are lost when turning whole wheat flour into white flour). Look for whole grains, watch out for all those chemical additives. Choose pastas with few, simple ingredients that you can recognize and pronounce.
Here are some ways to feel good about having your pasta in a healthier, more balanced way:
- Choose organic whole-grain pasta, rice noodles, quinoa and corn-based pasta, kelp noodles and noodles such as Japanese udon and soba, which are part whole wheat and part buckwheat.
- Cook pasta only until it is al dente (barely tender). Cooked this way, it has a lower glycemic index than fully cooked pasta because the grain flour breaks apart more slowly in the stomach. (Low glycemic-load carbohydrates should make up the bulk of your carb intake to help minimize rapid rises in your blood sugar levels.)
- Ladle on the traditional tomato-based
sauces and skip out on the creamy ones - they are often a source of
unhealthy fats and almost always contain more calories.
- Ramp up the veggies – broccoli, peppers, eggplant, dark leafy greens, broccoli rabe, asparagus, artichokes, olives, tomatoes, zucchini – for more flavor, fiber, vitamins, minerals (and fullness). Try making veggies the main fare, with a side of pasta and a lean protein, instead of the other way around.
- Aim for two - three servings per week
- Know the appropriate portion size: one serving is about 1/2 cup cooked pasta, about the volume equivalent of a lemon or tennis ball (most restaurants feed us at least six times this amount). A little secret here: eat your pasta from small bowls or plates - the size of your dish makes a big impact on how much and how satisfied you feel. Need convincing? Listen to this except from Brian Wansink's book Why We Eat More Than We Think.