Last week I visited a mom who asked me tons of questions about healthy pasta, and I am sure you also have a gazillion questions about it as well, so I decided to blog about it. Which pasta is the healthiest? Which pasta is lowest in carbs? Which brand is trustworthy? Is gluten free pasta really better for you? What is the difference between Spelt, Kamut, whole wheat and ancient grain pasta?
We have a lot to cover, but before we start I want to remind you that this post is not meant to scare or confuse you even more! The purpose of this is to inform, empower and give you practical solutions to choose better quality pasta for your family. I do not expect you to stop eating pasta, hell I didn’t stop eating pasta, all I do is substitute a few ingredients with healthier ones and go about my day – that is what I want for you too!
To finish this post on a positive note, I’ve also included a compilation of healthy and easy pasta recipes that my kids and the kids of my clients LOVE! Scroll below to download the document in PDF format.
Is pasta a staple item in your kitchen?
I have yet to find a person who doesn’t like pasta, even the pickiest of kids love pasta. It comes in fun shapes, easy and quick to make, tastes good, filling and goes with almost anything.
I personally LOVE pasta, in all kinds, sizes, and shapes. Until this day, Italian food (especially pasta with an Alfredo sauce) is my favourite! If it was possible I would eat pasta every day – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – yup this is how much I love it!
Unfortunately after becoming a mom and interesting thing happened – each time after eating pasta I gained weight! Especially in my upper arms, lower belly, and thighs. I quickly realized that my metabolism has changed after giving birth, and my digestion became weaker and less efficient. So imagine how devastating it was to give up one of my favourite foods!
I had to find a solution for this issue because the pasta wasn’t just a food item we liked, it was, in many cases, a lifesaver! As a mom with two young (and hungry) children, I didn’t have time to make meals with too much variety each time. It is so much easier to pop the pasta into a pot of boiling water, open a can of tomato sauce, slice a few vegetables and have a meal in less than half an hour!
I was determined to find a way around it! And I did!
How is pasta made?
Pasta is basically an unleavened dough which was flattened and cut into different shapes, cooked in boiling water. When I was little, my mom actually made pasta at home from scratch. The process is simple but time-consuming and today most people (including) opt for the store-bought variations. So in essence, pasta is another form of eating bread (aka carbohydrates). There is, however, a difference between eating white pasta and whole pasta. Let’s look at that more closely.
The difference between white (refined) and whole pasta
In order to understand the difference between white pasta and whole pasta we need to look at the anatomy of the grain more closely. As you can see in the image below, a whole grain consists of a bran, endosperm and the germ, whereas the “white grain” is obtained by refining the whole grain and removing the bran. Why is this step crucial? The bran holds the majority of the grain’s nutrition (B vitamins and minerals and fibre), and removing it leaves you with mostly starch, which is nutritionally an empty calorie, providing you nothing other than carbohydrates. This is why you gain weight after eating foods made out of white flour.
Fibre is super important for the health of our bodies, and there is a reason it was placed there in the first place! The fibre helps to slow the blood sugar levels and also provide digestive aid, in terms of flushing toxins and excess waste out of the body. Nowadays, most grains are sold refined, without bran, and in my opinion to so many weight issues with adults and children alike.
Why is the bran (aka fibre) removed?
This is a good question! Here’s the answer – as our food systems became more sophisticated and more mechanized, manufacturers realized that the removal bran will improve the grain’s taste, shorten cooking time and increase its shelf life.
Is whole wheat pasta healthy?
In general whole pasta is nutritionally better than the white counterpart, however there is a catch. Whole grains such as spelt, kamut, and other ancient grains are an excellent substitution to white refined pasta, but not wheat. Unfortunately, most pastas today are made out of wheat, simply because it is cheaper and much more accessible to manufacturers. Why is wheat not a good option? According to Dr. William Davis’s research, author of the book “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health”, the wheat we are eating today is not the wheat our grandparents ate 50 years ago! Today’s wheat is highly processed, hybridized and the worst reason – it makes all of us a society fat and overweight!
According to Dr. Davis a wheat-free diet has been associated with significant benefits, including the following:
- Weight loss of twenty, thirty, even fifty pounds in the first few months
- Alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
- Recovery from intestinal woes, like ulcerative colitis and celiac disease
- Marked improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts
- Improvement in bone density and reversal of osteoporosis
- Cessation of skin conditions from psoriasis to oral ulcers and hair loss
- Reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain
Is gluten-free pasta healthier than regular pasta?
The gluten-free industry is booming right now, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because people who have gluten sensitivities have more options and more variety in terms of what they can eat. On the other hand, this abundance also means that there are way too many people having issues with gluten and sensitivities to food that in the past.
Pasta that doesn’t contain gluten is made out of corn, quinoa, rice and buckwheat (aka as soba noodles) and tastes very similar to wheat pasta. If you do have gluten sensitivities or more serious issues like Celiac disease, you don’t really have a choice but sticking to whatever is available on the market. One thing that I do want to add is that corn is a GMO (genetically modified grain) which has been reported as causing sensitivities to many people and causing lots of digestive issues such as bloating and gassiness, so I recommend you to stay away from corn pasta. Quinoa and buckwheat are really good options as they are gluten free and also very high in protein and other trace minerals.
Just like in the case of regular pasta, which is mostly made out of wheat, the gluten-free pasta industry relies heavily on rice, because it is gluten free and inexpensive. However, rice has issues of its own, and I recommend you to not overdo it (once per week maximum), especially if you are feeding it to your children! According to my research, brown rice pasta is worse that white pasta, so stick to white pasta and see if you can find pasta that is made out of basmati rice, which has the lowest amount of arsenic out of all rice kinds.
How to shop for healthy pasta?
Knowing this is wonderful and enlightening, but we have to remember that nutrition has to be also practical, especially for us busy moms. So what I recommend to my clients is to have a variation of all grain types. Instead of buying the same kind of pasta each week, rotate them. Have a stock of white pasta, spelt pasta, kamut pasta, quinoa pasta, soba noodles and even whole wheat pasta. This way you are not only eating white pasta and also saving lots of money because let’s face it, whole pasta (especially the good kind) is expensive and it comes in smaller bags making it harder to stay on track.
Examples of healthy pasta brands
Here are a few examples of my favourite pasta brands:
Eden Organic Pasta – is a great and reputable brand. They make delicious pasta and have lots of different shapes, colours and varieties. My kids never question the kind of pasta I use, the key is to not under or overcook it, just stick to the instructions on the box and you should be fine.
Soba Buckwheat Pastas – These pastas are also gluten free, made out of buckwheat and taste good! I would keep these pastas for the adult in the home as kids usually don’t like the taste of this pasta.
Ancient grains pastas – are made out of ancient grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, kamut and spelt and are considered to be the healthiest kinds of pastas since they are high in protein and good source of trace minerals. My favourtie brands are TruRoots and Ancient Harvest.
Sprouted grain pastas – is made out of grain that has been sprouted before turning it into pasta. What this means is basically that the grain has been soaked in water prior to processing which makes the grain much easier to digest and absorb the minerals in the food by the body. There are not too many brands out there making pasta out of sprouted grains, the one brand I know of is called Food For Life Ezekiel 4:9 and found mostly in health food stores.
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Looking for Quick and Healthy Pasta Recipes That The Whole Family will love?
Do your kids like pasta? I think most of you answered a sound YES to this question, so I’ve prepared a compilation of my favourite 10 pasta recipes that my kids and the kids of my clients love!
Recipe for a delicious pasta with vegan Alfredo sauce (my favourite!)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup cauliflower (100 grams)
- ¾ cup almond milk (175 milliliters)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 4,2 ounces gluten-free uncooked spaghetti (120 grams)
- Cook the minced garlic with olive oil until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the almond milk and bring it to boil. Add the salt, pepper, chopped cauliflower and cook until it’s soft about 7 minutes.
- Transfer to a blender and add the nutritional yeast and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
- Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.
- Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan with the sauce. Stir and serve.
Recipe source: http://simpleveganblog.com/vegan-pasta-alfredo/
I’d love to hear from you!
Do you like pasta too? Which kinds of pasta do you use at home? What are your favourite pasta recipes? Feel free to ask questions you have in the comments section below, I am here to answer all of your pasta related questions 🙂
To your family’s health!