A quick healthy meal made with pasta is penne with vegetables and fresh herbs

Quick Healthy Meals Begin with Pasta

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read it here.

THE BENEFITS OF PASTA INCLUDE THE QUICK HEALTHY MEALS YOU CAN MAKE BY ADDING VEGETABLES, LEAN PROTEIN AND FRESH HERBS

Remember the days when we were told fat was killing us, but we could eat all the carbohydrates we wanted? Of course, that backfired. You can never eat all you want of anything and remain healthy. But back then, pasta was considered a superfood as long as you didn’t put any olive oil on it.

Then the tides turned on food high in carbohydrate, and protein became top dog, along with whatever fat clung to it. Soon people who hadn’t sunk their teeth into a piece of prime rib in ages were hitting the carving station again.

We have now entered the era of the good fats. The marbled meats are gone, and the healthy fats found in the foods of the Mediterranean, like olive oil, almonds and sesame seeds, are in.

Since the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to better health, you might be wondering where pasta fits into the plan?

I’m here to deliver good news. There are many nutritional and culinary benefits of pasta, and we were wrong to abandon the quick healthy meals we can make with it.

The problem was never the pasta; it was how much we were eating. Let’s try to get it right this time around. With all the new shapes, sizes and types of pasta on the market, there are more ways than ever to enjoy it.

Pasta Does Not Make You Fat!

Neither pasta in particular, nor carbohydrates in general, can make us gain weight any faster or easier than any other food containing calories. All of the excess calories we consume contribute to weight gain if we don’t burn them off, no matter what the source.

If you love pasta, the key to keeping it in your diet without exceeding your daily caloric allowance is to portion it properly. Two ounces of dry pasta is considered one serving, and it has about 200 calories. There’s no law against cooking a 12 ounce box and eating half of it yourself at one meal, but you must be able to use those 600 calories, and any that were clinging to it, or they will be stored as fat.

If you have a hard time estimating what 2 ounces of penne, fettuccine, or any other pasta looks like after it has been cooked, Barilla Pasta has a great chart that tells you how to measure it both before and after cooking.

Health Benefits of Pasta

  • Source of enriched and whole grains – Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least 6 servings of grains a day, with half of them whole grains and half enriched
  • Low in fat and sodium – You don’t have to salt the water to cook pasta; let your sauce provide the flavor.
  • No cholesterol or saturated fat – If you use only plant-sourced toppings, like vegetables and beans, your dish will remain cholesterol free.
  • Enriched with thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, folic acid, and iron – Including enriched grains in the diet is an important way to meet requirements for essential nutrients.
  • A low Glycemic Index food – This means pasta makes us feel satisfied longer than other food high in carbohydrate and it doesn’t cause blood sugar to surge.
  • Available in nutritionally enhanced varieties – The list includes whole grain, vegetable, high fiber, high protein, ALA omega-3 fatty acids, and gluten free.

Culinary Benefits of Pasta

  • Partners well with every other food group – It’s the foundation for endless quick healthy meals when prepared with vegetables, fruits, lean meats, beans, nuts, or cheese.
  • Quick and easy to cook – Depending on size, it only takes 6-12 minutes to cook pasta to “al dente”, so follow the directions on the box.
  • Variety of shapes and sizes – The names on the boxes mean different things in Italian, but the shapes are basically long or short, ridged or smooth, thin or thick, hollow or solid, flat or filled.
  • Versatile serving options – One of the few foods you can enjoy hot or cold and reheated.
  • Inexpensive and widely available – Pasta provides a valuable way to stretch food dollars without compromising on value at meals.
  • Tastes great – A favorite of children, teens and adults alike, so everyone in the family can enjoy more meals together.
There are many ways to substitute whole grains for refined grains

15 Stealth Health Tips With Whole Grains

This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Nutrition and health. You can read the original post here.

The message to eat more whole grains is now a familiar piece of nutrition advice to most Americans. It has been reinforced in each update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans since the year 2000 and is prominently featured in the new MyPlate food plan. The food industry has also done its part by offering a wide assortment of whole grains choices to cover everything from cereals to snacks and side dishes.

The only challenge left is helping consumers incorporate more of these whole grain foods into their everyday meals.

The top 3 reasons I have heard from my clients for not eating enough whole grains are:

  • They’re not always available when eating out
  • I don’t always have a grain food with my meals
  • I don’t like the taste and texture of whole grains foods

While nothing could be easier than eating a serving of whole grain cereal for breakfast, a sandwich made on whole wheat bread for lunch and a stir fry over brown rice for dinner to get 4-5 servings of whole grains in one day, that menu doesn’t work every day of the week.

For those situations, some stealth solutions are needed. That means making simple substitutions in how food is prepared at home to make whole grains available at every meal and snack to increase their consumption throughout the week. What makes them stealth solutions is that they look and taste as good as the foods they’re replacing and can save money, too!

15 Stealth Solutions to Boost Whole Grain Intake

  1. Cube whole wheat or rye bread, brush with olive oil, season, and bake for crunchy croutons
  2. Crumble stale cornbread to make a country-style poultry stuffing
  3. Save whole wheat bread crusts and ends in the freezer, then use to make bread crumbs
  4. Slice day-old whole wheat baguettes, spray with olive oil, and bake for use with hummus and other spreads
  5. Prepare individualized pizzas using whole wheat pitas as the crust
  6. Cut corn tortillas into 6 pieces and crisp in a hot oven to enjoy with salsa
  7. Replace bread crumbs with rolled oats in meatloaf and meatballs
  8. Crush leftover whole grain cereal flakes and nuggets to stir into muffin batters instead of some flour or nuts
  9. Combine whole grain pretzel and cracker crumbs to use as a coating for fish and poultry
  10. Use white whole wheat bread to make French toast, and make extra to freeze
  11. Stretch tuna and chicken salad by adding some chilled brown rice
  12. Create a mixed-grain pilaf using brown rice, barley, and wild rice
  13. Use whole wheat couscous in place of noodles in soups
  14. Make risotto from barley instead of short-grained round rice for its creamy, chewy texture
  15. Mix cornmeal or oat flour into pancake batter for added flavor