Pasta is one of life’s great joys. It can become anything you want it to become. Light and fresh. Creamy and comforting. Spicy and wild. Most people can agree that pasta is delicious and most people can also agree that in terms of health, it has potential to contribute to weight gain.
What is it about pasta that’s not so great for us? Well, often pasta is made from ingredients that our bodies can turn into energy quickly. If we don’t use up that energy, and I don’t know about you but most of the time after a meal of pasta I hit the couch not the pavement, it gets stored around our middles.
Pasta is also something that we can easily over eat. It’s so delicious, so comforting, our portion sizes can quickly expand to suit our moods instead of our hunger. What does a serving of pasta look like? The back of my spaghetti box says that 85 grams (dry) is a serving. When I hold that in my hand, the circumference measures about 1.5 cm. Hard to visualize I know. That serving has 300 calories, 1.5 g of fat, 62 g of carbohydrates (those things we turn quickly into energy) 8 g of fibre and 11 g of protein. Now, that’s just the plain pasta. We don’t often eat pasta plain so our calorie and carb counts for the meal will go up from there.
How can we continue to enjoy pasta in a way that suits our health goals?
- The simplest thing is to reduce the volume we consume. Instead of having pasta twice a week, have it once a week. I know it’s such an economical choice, we often grab it when there’s not much left in the pantry so meal planning can really help with this goal.
- We can also replace pasta in many dishes with less carbohydrate heavy choices. You’ve likely heard of zoodles (spiralized zucchini) and you don’t need to replace all your pasta with zucchini. Try subbing out half the quantity and you’re still making a step forward. Other substitutions we like are cabbage, spaghetti squash and cheese based gnocchi. We quite often make a variation of stroganoff using sautéed cabbage in place of noodles. My whole family loves it.
- Look at the overall meal. What’s on the side? Garlic bread? Instead let’s up the protein and fats. By adding protein (beans or meat), fibre (veggies) and fat (butter, cheese or olive oil) to our meal we will consume smaller portions of pasta, fill up faster and burn that meal more slowly.
- The biggest thing that we do at home is make our choice to have pasta count. We make it worth it. Instead of absentmindedly reaching for that boxed mac and cheese because we didn’t plan anything else, we will save our pasta meal for homemade lasagne. And we fill that lasagne with layers of meat, spinach and cheese so we aren’t just filling up on empty carbohydrates – our meal as a whole has a lot of nutrition.
Pasta doesn’t have to be taboo. It shouldn’t be! It’s amazing! Thinking about how and when and why we choose it will go a long way towards helping us achieve our health goals.