Many people who are trying to lose weight or eat healthy do not eat pasta. I get it. Pasta is a CARB and CARBS have gotten a really bad rap over the years. But what I want to tell you is it’s actually okay to eat pasta IF YOU EAT IT THE RIGHT WAY.
It’s not carbs in general that we need to avoid. It’s white carbs…white sugar, white flour, white rice, white bread and white pasta. The wrong carbs, aka the whites and junk food, turn to sugar and then turn to fat in your body. And they make you feel tired and sluggish after eating them, not to mention they contain very little nutritional value. But the right carbs actually give you energy, help stabilize your blood sugar which assists in keeping your weight down, help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers and provide your body with fiber, protein and many vitamins and minerals.
“So what are the right carbs?” Whole grain ones. That means whole wheat pasta; whole wheat and whole grain breads; quinoa; farro; brown, black and wild rice; and oats, to name a few.
Whole grains and whole wheat pasta contain all of the parts of the grain—the endosperm, the germ and the bran—which in turn provide your body with significant amounts of protein, fiber and naturally-occurring vitamins. Contrarily, white or “enriched” pasta contains only the endosperm. The bran and germ portions of the grain are literally stripped away, along with a large part of the grain’s protein, fiber and vitamins. The manufacturers then have to go and add back in some of the nutrients, which is where the word “enriched” comes from, but only a small amount are added back and not in the original proportion.
“Why do companies do this to pasta?” So that it ends up fluffy and white and nutrition-less instead of grainy, hearty and nutritious. “But what if I don’t really like the texture of whole wheat pasta?” Learn to like it.
When purchasing whole wheat pasta, look for the front of the package to say “Whole Wheat Pasta” and the first (and probably only) ingredient should be “durum whole wheat flour.”
The second thing you should know about eating pasta the right way involves the portion. Now that’s a word that can be hard to swallow—-pun intended. Eating appropriate portions is instrumental to keeping your weight down. When it comes to pasta, you may be surprised to know that a portion is….drum roll please….1 cup of cooked noodles. “Are you joking? Who even made up these portion guides? A mouse? Do they realize 1 cup is like nothing?”
That certainly is not a lot of pasta and if you make it at home or order it in a restaurant, I guarantee you will end up eating more than 1 cup of noodles. It would be unrealistic to eat only that much. But it is important to realize that that is the portion. SO what does this mean for you? You can certainly eat more than 1 cup of noodles, BUT you should be careful not to eat much more than that and eat ONLY a small to medium bowl of pasta.
“How is that even possible? I can literally eat a bucket’s worth of pasta.” Well it’s not easy, but the best way to do it is to make a kickass sauce loaded with vegetables and crushed tomatoes, lots of spices and maybe some ground turkey, and eat lots of that sauce and not a lot of noodles. And on the side, eat a salad to help fill you up even more.
Many people prefer to eat vegetable noodles, like zoodles, instead of pasta and that’s fantastic. That can help you get your pasta fix without worrying about limiting yourself. But what I want you to understand is eating pasta once in a while, and that means no more than once a week or a few times per month, will provide you with a great whole grain option that contains protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and many disease-fighting health benefits.
So remember…to eat pasta the right way, choose a whole wheat pasta, eat a small bowl of it, eat it only once a week or a few times per month and you can stop avoiding pasta like it’s the “plague” (appropriate reference for all of my Jewish friends celebrating Passover this week).
Here’s a pasta recipe to try using the slow cooker. It has a lot of sauce and vegetables, and not a lot of noodles, and ends up soft and satisfying. Give it a try and learn to eat a little pasta once in a while and enjoy it!
Slow Cooker Spinach "Lasagna"
This simple and delicious slow cooker pasta uses a lot of vegetables and sauce and not a lot of noodles!
- 1 25.5 oz. jar marinara sauce use one without added sugar and all-natural ingredients
- 1 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted crushed or diced tomatoes undrained
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes use more or less as desired
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 yellow bell pepper coarsely chopped
- 1 zucchini diced
- 5 whole wheat lasagna noodles
- 3/4 cup light ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup part-skim mozzarella or Italian blend shredded cheese
- 4 cups baby spinach coarsely chopped
Spray 5- to 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
In medium bowl, mix marinara sauce, tomatoes, crushed red pepper, oregano, Italian seasoning, bell pepper and zucchini. Spread 1 cup tomato mixture in bottom of slow cooker.
Layer 1-2 lasagna noodles, broken into pieces to fit, over sauce in slow cooker.
Spread 1/3 of the ricotta cheese over noodles; sprinkle with a little shredded cheese.
Add 1/3 of the spinach.
Top with one-third of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat layering of noodles, cheeses and spinach. Top with remaining noodles and sauce.
Cover; cook on low heat setting for about 4 hours or until noodles are tender and cooked through.
This pasta dish ends up more like a pasta casserole than a layered lasagna. Yum!