Pasta, one of my favorite carbohydrates. And that is saying something since I am a HUGE carb lover. A true gift from the Mediterranean, pasta is made from just two simple ingredients—durum wheat and water. Pasta can be the perfect foundation for a nutritious and balanced meal. Need some proof? A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that placing individuals on a low-carbohydrate diet (35%) did not result in greater weight loss than those on a high-carbohydrate diet (65%). These findings were followed up in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and confirmed by the 2015 DGAC Report that there is “strong and consistent evidence that when calorie intake is controlled, macronutrient proportion of the diet is not related to losing weight”.
Now that we’ve gotten past the pasta-phobia, let’s talk about why pasta is such a nutritious food. Carbohydrates are one of three basic macronutrients (fat and protein are the other two) that provide our bodies with energy. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body and can be described as simple or complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, like pasta, are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates, so they can provide our bodies with energy more gradually after a meal and help us feel satisfied longer.
Pasta has other healthful components such as fiber and protein. Fiber (think whole wheat pasta!) can help reduce your risk certain health conditions like coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Protein (some varieties are protein fortified) helps build muscle and feel full longer. In addition to protein, pasta can also be fortified with a variety of ingredients such as heart-healthy fats (think omega 3s!) and folic acid, an important B vitamin, especially during pregnancy.
If you are looking to i your veggie intake, never fear. There’s a pasta for you, too. Some pastas are made with vegetable flour and provide one FULL serving of vegetables per 3.5 oz portion. This leads me to this main focus of this article: veggies and pasta. The two complement each other nicely and can serve as the foundation for nutritious side dishes and entrees. Read on for some tasty, veggie-centered pasta recipes!
1. A Twist on the Old Classic
This creative take of combining tomatoes with pasta, Dinner at the Zoo, stuffs hollowed out tomatoes with spaghetti, cheese, and herbs. You heard me right, a tomato stuffed with a delicious concoction of pasta, gooey cheese, and flavorful herbs! This recipe is ripe with lycopene, a class of antioxidants that has been shown to promote heart health.
2. Lighten up with the ‘cado
Don’t give up the creaminess that comes from an Alfredo or cream sauce. Instead, substitute the cream or half and half with avocado! While it may sound a little different, do your heart a favor and give it a shot. Avocado is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids which can help lower your cholesterol. This simple creamy avocado spaghetti with zucchini can be ready in under 30 minutes. Give it a try the next time you are craving a creamy pasta dish.
3. Amp up with some protein
Did you know that veggies have protein?! Edamame (aka soybeans) and nuts are great sources of protein that will help build lean muscle and make you feel fuller for longer. This lemony pasta with edamame, almonds, and spinach is a great example of a veggie-centered pasta dish that is pumped up with protein.
4. Pair with pesto
Traditionally, the main nut used in pesto is pine nuts. This walnut pesto penne recipe swaps out pine nuts for walnuts for a new take on tradition and incorporates differently-shaped pasta! Importantly, nuts are high in unsaturated fats (such as omega 3’s) and low in saturated fats. Eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, for example walnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. No-bake lasagna
I know that in the summer, the last thing I want to do is crank on the oven to make dinner. Enter the cold, no-bake lasagna! This recipe is bursting with a medley of vegetables, delicious pesto, and yummy cheese. Bonus—you don’t even have to pop it in the oven. The option to serve this dish cold makes it a great option for outdoor summer get-togethers.
These delicious recipes are more than enough reason to get me to have pasta for dinner tonight. Never mind the fact that pasta is a central ingredient of the healthful Mediterranean Diet, which multiple studies have shown can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. So get creative, vary your veggies and add new pasta dishes to your culinary repertoire. Eating well doesn’t have to be Greek to you!