This article originally appeared in the July 2018 New Era/Lebanon Local papers.
Comfort food. That is the claim to fame of good ole pasta. Large, small, flat, round, tubular, shell-like... there is a shape for every culinary purpose and mood.
Thanks to technology, not only do we have different shapes of pasta, we have pasta from sources other than their traditional durum or semolina ancestor (types of wheat). There is rice (white or brown), corn, quinoa, soy, tapioca and other grain-based pastas. These alternative sources can be especially helpful for those who avoid wheat and gluten.
As age-old and delicious as pasta is, it can present a little bit of a challenge for the health-conscious person. Considering the amount of calories per serving, there is not much high quality nutrition. One serving of normal spaghetti offers you 200 calories, 7 grams protein, 41 grams total carbs, and 2 grams fiber. Ultimately you mostly get carbohydrates, very little fiber and none or little protein. Also the B-vitamins that were stripped away from the grain have to be added back in (and not all companies do).
I am not trying to demonize pasta by any means. There can be a place for it in a well-balanced diet. However, if you are looking to eat it with frequency and/or are interested in exploring optimal nutrition, I welcome you to widening your lense of pasta sources. Instead of looking at grain-based pastas, try looking at bean, lentil, or vegetable-based ones.
Bean and lentil pastas typically come from black beans, chickpeas, adzuki beans, soy beans and red or green lentils. These are procured from health-food type stores or online. Admittedly the price for these is higher than regular pastas.
Veggie noodles can be made one of two ways: cooking up spaghetti squash (which naturally shreds into noodle-like strings) or by using a tool that creates spiral noodles. These “zoodles,” as they commonly are made from running zucchini (or other summer squash) through a machine called a Spiralizer” or Veggetti. These spiralizer tools range from small, handheld versions to ones more ornate in structure in and function. The price rises with the complexity of the toll but it typically starts very reasonably.
The “pros” to these healthier pasta noodles is in the significantly higher protein, fiber, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Typically, the total carbohydrate content is significantly lower. Because the carbs are accompanied by the protein and fiber, the overall effect on your blood sugar is moderated. Since blood sugars are not spiked, weight, appetite, moods and inflammation are more likely to be kept in check.
Overall, they can help your health rather than detract from it. This is especially the case if using fresh zucchini to make your noodles!
But the difference in traditional pasta and “non-traditional “ pastas isn’t just in the nutrient value. There ARE differences in the taste, texture, cook time and the ability to store/reheat. Often times these non- traditional pastas require less time. “Zoodles” in fact, can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed or steamed in the microwave. It is the change in texture are often the biggest hang-up when introducing non-traditional pastas and is often the reason why people say they “don’t like them.” This is real and legitimate but doesn’t’ have to be the end of the story.
Here are some suggestions for incorporating healthier, non- traditional pastas into your kitchen this summer!
Switch up your sauces. Non-traditional pastas might seem boring to you because your sauce is boring. Try new sauces or even new seasonings. Instead of plain marinara sauce, buy a better flavored one or use a pesto or herb-based “green” sauce. Experiment with a favorite “go-to” sauce you love (you know the kind that you find yourself dumping onto everything you eat anyway!). These days there is also a wealth of “simmer sauces” on the market that you cook meat/meat alternatives in. Just cook your meat/meat alternative and pour your simmer sauces over your noodle of choice (it certainly simplifies your meal!)! Instead of a fancy or store-bought sauce, you can even go minimalistic with olive or avocado oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder!
Add roasted veggies. Cook up that produce from your garden, or farmers market and load you pasta dish with it. Roasted veggies are particularly great in pastas and add a sweet and savory flavor. With all the different textures that the veggies bring, you might not notice a change of the pastas texture as much.
Change up the temp. You may find you prefer certain non-traditional pastas hot rather than cold and Vis versa. Hot pastas can extenuate certain textures or flavors (like spice) while cold pastas may highlight a different flavor. Temperature not only alters flavor but texture as well. So play around with what pasta-alternatives offer the best flavor with your sauces and the best texture.
Resources. Sometimes when venturing on new food adventures, it is helpful to have a place to start. Here are some brands to try. I am NOT paid to offer these recommendations. I am simply giving you a list of brands to try bases off of my own experience and those of fellow foodies and Dietitians have recommended.
Brands to try:
-Cybil’s Free To Eat Pasta
-Tolerant Pasta (green lentil is my favorite)
Websites/tools: For recipe and the patented “spiralizer” check out www.inspiralized.com. For the low price, hand held zoodle maker check out the Veggetti tool online.
This summer, get creative while adding some healthier pastas to your table. Try this quick pasta sauce recipe on your next pasta dish!
15 Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta Sauce
by ANGELA (OH SHE GLOWS)
1 medium garlic clove
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
1 tablespoon water
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon zest, for serving
In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince. Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado, and 1 tablespoon water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the pasta and place it back in the pot. Add all of the avocado sauce and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.
Top with pepper, lemon zest, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.
Serve with your pasta of choice (try with spiralized or julienned zucchini or on a bed of spaghetti squash!)
Note: Because avocados oxidize quickly after you slice them, this sauce is best served immediately.