A Healthier Pasta Bowl
6 Ways to Turn Noodles Into Nutrition
Pasta is decadent. It’s delightful. It’s what food lovers’ dream of. But, (dun, dun, dun) it can also pack a starchy dose of calories and saturated fat.
That said, with a little creativity, knowledge and self-restraint, pasta doesn’t have to be the enemy. It can actually be a healthy source of energy when prepared with the right sauces, spices and veggies. Here are a couple things to keep in mind when it comes to creating a pasta dish that’s easy on the waistline and still as tasty as ever.
Watch Your Portions
Carbohydrates aren’t inherently “bad” or unhealthy -- they’re actually an important part of a balanced diet. The issue with carbs is that people consume them in mass quantities. A serving of cooked pasta is 3-4 ounces, or roughly the size of your palm, so try to keep that in mind next time you’re dishing out spaghetti.
Use Whole Wheat Pasta
Another way to make the average pasta dish more nutritious is by trying whole wheat varieties. Whole grains promote healthy digestive health and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer. These days, you can find a whole wheat version of almost every pasta style, so even though the taste and texture might take a tiny bit of adjustment, switching to whole wheat pasta is worth it.
Pile on the Veggies
Once you’ve got a healthy base of whole wheat pasta, consider adding all the veggies you can find. Noodle dishes are a great excuse to get creative and even clean out the fridge. Toss onions, peppers, broccoli, zucchini and garlic in a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic for a tasty topping to any noodle bowl. Aim for a plate containing more vegetables than pasta, and remember, the more color in your veggies, the more vitamins and nutrients you’ll consume.
If you find yourself cooking for picky children or even adults who aren’t fully on the veggie train, hiding vegetables in pasta sauce is one of the best, easiest and, well, sneakiest ways of getting in the greens. Shred them, dice them, toss them in a blender - whatever you do - carrots, celery, zucchini, onions and basically every other vegetable can be almost completely hidden in a rich, thick tomato sauce. Consider trying this marinara sauce with sneaky vegetables for your next family dinner.
Be Smart with Sauces
When it comes to pasta, the biggest culprit in terms of calories and fat is usually the sauce. Your best bet is to stick with light, tomato-based sauces, or a light dressing of extra virgin olive oil.
Stay away from thick sauces, like Alfredo, or anything made with heavy cream, loads of cheese and/or butter. If you’re really craving a heavier sauce, consider using Greek yogurt instead of cream. It’s a great way to cut calories while adding protein.
Remember, fat and calories don’t exactly equal flavor. Fresh herbs and spices, seasonal vegetables, tasty cheeses and lean meats can provide all the flavor a pasta dish needs.
Go Easy on the Cheese
Many of the most delicious pasta recipes include cheese - and why wouldn’t they? Cheese is delicious, nutritious (it’s loaded with calcium, protein and vitamin D) and flavorful -- but if you add it by the handful, you could be entering dangerous territory. Opt for cheeses that pack a punch - powerful flavor that can be achieved with just a dash or sprinkle. Varieties like feta, goat cheese and parmesan are great examples of cheeses where a little goes a long way. They are also naturally low in fat, so call it a win-win.
Give Spiralizing a Spin
The latest craze in the pasta world doesn’t actually have anything to do with pasta at all. Zoodles are basically noodles made by spiralizing zucchini, and they just might change the way you think of pasta all together. All you have to do is get a spiralizer (they vary in price from $10 to hundreds) and let your imagination run wild. Once you have your zoodles, sauté them with sauce, veggies, lean meats, and voilà! You’ve got a pasta dish that tastes like regular pasta, but with fewer carbs and calories and more nutrients.
Ready to jump on the un-pasta pasta wagon? This recipe collection includes lemongrass chicken and zoodles, pad Thai zoodles, chicken zoodle soup and more.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a single dish that boasts as many flavors, colors, textures and variations as a bowl of pasta. Here’s to enjoying it moderately and healthfully!