It’s time for pasta! This yummy Italian staple is so comforting and delicious, right? But, is pasta healthy? How can you enjoy this comfort food the healthy way? First of all, let’s set the record straight about pasta. Though carb-rich pasta has gotten a bad rap because of carb fear, we know there are many health benefits for eating whole grain pasta.
Pasta is part of the Mediterranean diet, which is linked with lots of health benefits. It’s also a key part of plant-based food traditions that promote longer life, lower disease risk, and healthy weight. In fact, research shows that people who eat pasta typically include more vegetables in their diets, because pasta serves as a “carrier” for more veggies at meals—pasta is like a blank canvas for adding nutrient-rich ingredients—spices, herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and more—into your meals. In addition, there are so many types of pasta available today—gluten-free pasta, chickpea pasta, veggie pasta, and more!
Here are three tips for enjoying healthy pasta:
1) Choose Whole Grain Pasta. Whole grain pasta varieties serve as a good source of fiber-rich food. Whole grain pasta improves your digestive health, lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and provides vitamins that are essential to your body’s functions (1). Also, pasta is produced in a way that starches get trapped in the wheat protein matrix and become less rapidly absorbed into your blood stream. This low-glycemic response can give you the advantage of feeling more satisfied for a longer period.
2) Study the Label. A wide range of whole grain pastas are available in supermarkets but looks can be deceiving. Some products may be labeled “multigrain,” “whole grain,” or “healthy carb,” but that doesn’t mean they are made of 100% whole grain. If you’re looking for whole grain pasta, search for those that list whole grains first on the ingredients list (2).
3) Appropriate Pasta Portions. The biggest challenge in dishing up a healthy pasta meal is the sheer portion size we’ve become accustomed to eating. Most people pile up triple or even quadruple the recommended serving size (common at restaurants). Try adding more veggie toppings to balance your plate.
Rick Christman, MPH