What is more satisfying than a warm bowl of saucy pasta? From olive oil and garlic to rich marinara, pasta dishes are endlessly versatile. Pasta is a starting point for an easy and tasty weeknight meal. And as every plant-based eater and vegan knows, pasta is often the default meatless dish at restaurants and events.
However, pasta is one of the first foods we hear we should “cut out” when we want to live a healthier lifestyle. Pasta is often demonized for its high carb count and rich sauces, leading us to associate pasta with feelings of indulgence and guilt. In this article we will debunk some of the myths leading us to question, is pasta healthy?
Is Pasta Healthy?
Myth 1: Pasta is too high in carbs
One serving (1 cup) of plain, wheat-based, dried pasta provides 235 calories, 45g of carbohydrates, around 2g of fiber and 9g of protein. This carbohydrate amount fits into the nutritional guidelines for a healthy, active adult.
Dietary guidelines recommend that 45-65% of the calories we eat should come from carbohydrates. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this works out to 225-325g of carbohydrates per day, or 60-80g per meal. As long as you keep track of portion sizes and adjust to your dietary needs, a serving of pasta can easily fit into this guideline!
There is also some evidence that pasta is lower on the glycemic index scale than other carbohydrate-containing foods such as rice or bread. This means that the starch digests slower, and won’t spike your blood sugar levels. Keeping pasta “al dente,” or cooked to the point that it is slightly chewy and firm, will maximize this effect.
Myth 2: Plant-based pasta is complicated to make
Although most classic Italian pasta dishes contain meat, cheese and/or egg, plant-based pasta is a lot easier to make and more common than you may think.
First, be sure to check the ingredient list on dried or fresh pasta. Most dried pasta is made with only semolina flour and water. Semolina is a wheat flour high in gluten protein, which gives the pasta its firm texture and cohesive shape Some types of pasta contain eggs for color or richness, but this will be indicated on the nutrition label.
As for pasta sauce, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as recreating meat/dairy-based dishes like lasagna or mac and cheese. It can be as simple as Aglio e olio – an Italian dish with just olive oil and garlic to dress pasta. Check the table below for more easy, plant-based pasta ideas.
Plant-based Pasta Ideas
|Plant-based Pasta Ideas|
|Primavera||Edamame, broccoli, carrots, celery, tomato sauce|
|Pesto||Pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, basil|
|Hummus||Chickpeas, tahini, parsley, garlic, olive oil|
|Ratatouille||Roasted eggplant, zucchini, and onion with tomato sauce|
|Southwest||Black beans, corn, tomato salsa, avocado|
|Harvest||Butternut squash, crispy kale, olive oil, nutritional yeast|
Myth 3: Pasta sauce is unhealthy
A lot of pasta’s negative reputation comes from the sauce we add to it. Many restaurant dishes come with an overload of creamy sauces and cheese, providing more fat and calories than our bodies need from one meal. This overload can cause us to feel sluggish and tired after the meal, rather than full of energy.
The good news is that the ingredient swaps that make your meal plant-based also add nutrients! For example, switching from butter to olive oil adds a boost of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Swapping cream and cheese for tomato sauce and hemp seeds provide antioxidants and protein.
Myth 4: Pasta meals are not balanced
When building your pasta meal, don’t forget protein, veggies and fat! The table above provides some ideas, but the possibilities are almost endless when it comes to pasta. Include sources of protein and fiber to add flavor and a balanced source of nutrients. Protein, fiber, and fat slow carbohydrate digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes.
Almost any veggie and plant-based protein source can be a part of your pasta dish. Aim for a balanced plate that looks something like ¼ protein, ½ pasta and ¼ veggies for a good mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Start off your meal with a green salad to boost satiety, vitamins, and minerals.
So is pasta healthy? We have shown that pasta dishes fit into the dietary guidelines, and can be nutrient-rich and balanced. Next time you are in need of an easy weeknight meal, consider making one of our plant-based pasta meals or using the guideline to create one of your own!
How are some ways you enjoy this plant-based staple? Let us know in the comments below!
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