With November’s focus on American Diabetes Awareness, I thought it a timely moment to discuss healthy strategies for incorporating pasta into your diet if you’re a pasta lover, whether you have diabetes or not.
Pasta gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t scare you off altogether; it is all about how you approach it. Pasta has some redeeming qualities: it is versatile, inexpensive, low in sodium, and has the potential to be enriched with doses of iron and B vitamins. So how can you make wiser choices when it comes to eating pasta? Try cooking it at home, for starters, so you can have a better control over portion sizes and preparation method. Next, utilize one or more of the strategies, below, to give your spaghetti night a facelift!
Try a non-traditional pasta.
Dreamfields brand pasta is one example of a lower-carb pasta. It contains more fiber in the form of inulin and protein than traditional pasta. Personally, I think it tastes great, also (my 100% Italian in-laws have it all the time, for what it's worth)! The company claims that 2 ounces (roughly 1 to 1 ½ cups cooked) contains just 5 digestible grams of carbohydrates. Pasta made from legumes like chickpeas such as the Banza brand is also becoming a more popular alternative. Banza states it has 1.5x more protein, 25% less net carbs, and 3x the amount of fiber as compared to traditional pasta. Both Banza and Dreamfields have some great and healthy recipes on their websites, to boot.
Mix in veggies.
Bulk up your pasta and “dilute” the carbs by mixing in vegetables. A pasta primavera dish is an example of adding a lot of veggies to a little bit of pasta. The vegetables will contribute volume and increase your satiety factor, as well as your intake of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Eat it as a side.
Grain foods should always take up about only one quarter of your plate. So remember, pasta doesn’t have to be the main event, and you may find it quenches your craving by having it as a balanced side.
Have you ever thought outside of the traditional noodle box? If not, it could be time to mix in cooked spaghetti squash, which looks like vermicelli when shredded to cooked pasta and top with your favorite (low-fat) sauce. If you've never done it, the process itself is pretty fascinating! Or you can try Zoodles (zucchini noodles)as another delicious option. You don’t have to go all or nothing here, but you may enjoy occasionally mixing in noodle alternatives that taste closer to the “real deal”.
Cook it al dente.
Overcooked pasta has a higher glycemic index, meaning that it can raise your blood glucose higher than if you cooked it al dente (which literally means “to the tooth”). Al dente pasta is somewhat chewy, but never mushy. P.s. have you ever tried the spaghetti wall test?
Combine in protein.
Because pasta is a plant protein, it does not contain one or more amino acids necessary for it to be considered a complete protein. Animal sources of protein, on the other hands, are complete proteins. Make your pasta meal a complete protein by eating it with some low-fat meat, edamame, chicken, or fish. You’ll feel more satisfied and be able to enjoy a smaller portion of pasta this way.
Enjoy all your pasta-bilities!
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– Keeley Mezzancello, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC
Health Advisor, Registered Dietitian | Email Keeley