For years, pasta has unjustly suffered from a fattening image. But finally, pasta's PR has turned around. In controlled quantities, pasta has the fiber content to satisfy your most ferocious hunger and keep you from grabbing those more fattening foods when your will power is at its weakest.
As a complex carbohydrate, pasta offers nutrients and few calories. At four calories per gram, pasta won't pack on pounds unless you eat platefuls or pile on creamy sauces. Eating healthy pasta dishes with a simple tomato sauce and lots of vegetables and beans fights the saturated fat in your diet by taking the place of fattier meat-based meals.
By glancing at the nutrients listed here, you can tell pasta is a health food. To help process its carbohydrates into energy, pasta even brings along its own B vitamins. Whole-wheat pasta is particularly rich in minerals and fiber, making it even more satisfying as a meal.
Whole grains are great not only because they contain plenty of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but because they may also help maintain a healthy body weight. A study of nearly 75,000 female nurses for more than 12 years showed that the more whole grains the women ate, the less they weighed. On the other hand, the more refined grains, such as white flour products, that the women ate, the more they gained weight. In addition, those eating the most fiber from whole grains were 49 percent less likely to gain weight as those who ate foods from refined grains.
Selection and Storage
Durum wheat, from which golden semolina pasta is made, is naturally higher in nutrients, including protein, than other types of wheat. But like white flour, durum flour is refined, so it's missing the nutritious bran and germ, the storehouses of valuable nutrients. More often than not, refined flours used to make pasta are enriched with three B vitamins, such as thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, and iron, so most aren't nutritionally void.
But if you're looking for the most nutritious type of pasta, whole wheat is superior. Its bran and germ are intact so it has many vitamins and minerals, including hard-to-get copper, magnesium, and zinc, which are missing in refined pasta. If you don't like the taste or chewiness of whole-wheat pasta, try mixing it with regular pasta, for at least half the benefit. Whole-wheat pastas have improved over the years. Try several brands until you find one that you like.
Dried pasta will keep in your cupboards for months, especially if transferred to airtight containers. Storing pasta in glass jars makes a pretty countertop display, but the exposure to light will destroy some of the B-vitamins. So store it in a cool, dry place and away from light and air. When it comes to taste and texture, fresh pasta is better than dried pasta. You can find it in the deli section of your grocery store.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Cooking pasta may seem simple, but note these finer points:
- Use a large pot of water: four to six quarts per pound of pasta. Pasta needs room to move or it gets sticky.
- Add a pinch of salt. It makes the water boil at a higher temperature, so the pasta cooks faster and the strands are less likely to stick together.
- After the water reaches a boil, add pasta gradually. This prevents the water from cooling down, which slows cooking.
- Don't overcook pasta, or the starch granules will absorb too much water, causing starch granules to rupture, making it very sticky. Pasta is best cooked al dente: tender but chewy. Five to ten minutes does it.
- Drain pasta immediately. Do not rinse; you'll lose valuable nutrients. To prevent sticking, immediately toss the pasta with a little sauce or olive oil.
Pasta can fit into your weight-management plan as long as you forget high-calorie Alfredo sauce or other cream sauces. Try piping hot spaghetti topped with uncooked, chopped, homegrown tomatoes, fresh basil or arugula, and perhaps a light sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Or add your favorite vegetables to a flavorful marinara sauce that is made with tomatoes, or merely toss your favorite cooked veggies with garlic and olive oil for pasta primavera.
The next time you're out hanging with the gang at their favorite pizzeria, stick to your weight-loss regimen by ordering a healthy pasta dish and taking home half of the restaurant portion in a to-go bag. That way, you can enjoy eating out without any of the guilt.
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