How I, a Carb-Loving Italian, Have Managed to Make Pasta Healthier
It's hard out there for a serious pasta-lover who also strives to be healthy. As someone who grew up in a big Italian family — two parents and 18 aunts and uncles all from New York, to be exact — pasta has always been a part of family meals, and it's by far my favorite food. Now that I'm
trying to be an adult and I live on my own, I cook for myself and make healthy meals most of the time. While I eat plenty of fresh produce, lean protein, and unprocessed foods, I could never give up pasta entirely. The good news for me (and others who find happiness in carbs) is that the Italian staple does have some nutritional benefits, and there are plenty of ways to make it healthier.
And the health benefits of pasta are . . .
- Protein and fiber. A typical serving size of traditional pasta (two ounces uncooked, which comes to about one cup cooked) contains eight grams of protein and a little over 200 calories. It also contains 2.5 grams of fiber per serving, which is 10 percent of your RDA.
- Several essential nutrients. It's rich in folic acid, a B vitamin that's essential for women before and during pregnancy — it's necessary for proper development of the human body. Beyond that, the vitamin can prevent anemia, cervical cancer, and strokes.
- Low amounts of sodium and no cholesterol. While the sodium content and cholesterol level depend on what you put in it, pasta itself has only six milligrams of sodium and zero milligrams of cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy base to a meal.
Make pasta healthier by . . .
- Buying whole-wheat or other alternative versions. I often buy organic brown-rice-and-quinoa pasta from Trader Joe's, and while the texture is not quite the same as regular pasta (it's a little chewier and nuttier), it's still tasty and gets the job done. Besides all the benefits associated with heart-healthy whole grains, a serving of whole-wheat pasta typically has 174 calories and seven grams of protein. Plus, per cup, it can provide up to 25 percent of daily fiber requirements.
- Keeping portions in check. I know how tempting it is to make a big pot of pasta and load up your entire plate, but paying attention to portion size ensures you're sticking to your healthy lifestyle while still satisfying your pasta cravings. Since a serving is one cup cooked, that's plenty when you're adding enough healthy ingredients to it. Fill half your plate with pasta and half with a side dish like roasted veggies, and you'll save yourself from the carb coma and belly bloat later on.
- Loading it up with fresh veggies. Pasta can basically be a salad, right? Not exactly, but making wise choices in what you put in your pasta dishes can make all the difference in their nutritional benefits. Instead of going heavy on the cheese sauces or Italian sausage, go for lightened-up recipes loaded with veggies and protein. You can even make delicious dairy-free alfredo sauce, pictured below.