Every frazzled soccer mom knows that a box of pasta will cook in about 10 minutes. It’s a survival skill. But mothers aren’t the only ones who are savvy to this. My own mom was an Army nurse in Vietnam, and she said every Thursday was spaghetti night in her mess hall, so the military has been in on the secret of pasta since at least 1970. Pasta is an inexpensive and filling food that makes a quick, tasty meal.
But pasta has gotten a bad reputation in the last few years. You can prove this by engaging in casual conversation. Mention to someone that you’re planning to have pasta for dinner. I bet that nine times out of 10 that person will say “Too starchy!”
It’s true that pasta is a starchy food, more properly called a grain (vs. a starchy vegetable). The idea that we should avoid grains and starches is promoted by several fad diets currently in vogue, but grains have an important role in a healthy and balanced diet. The MyPlate diagram shows that one quarter of a balanced plate should be grains.
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the healthier your starches and grains, the less risk there is of obesity and poor health. Here are some great tips on the best pastas or pasta alternatives that can still help you build a delicious and healthful meal:
- Whole wheat and high-protein pasta. Pick brown! When a grain or starch is high in fiber and/or protein it is not digested as quickly, and therefore has less effect on blood sugar. It may also keep you fuller longer.
- Have pasta as a side dish instead of the main entrée. Add cooked vegetables into your spaghetti dish to bulk up the fiber content.
- Spaghetti squash. This amazing vegetable, when cooked, makes a perfect pasta alternative which is much lower in calories than regular pasta.
- Vegetable strings. Use a vegetable peeler to make long strings of zucchini, yellow squash and carrots which make a great pasta substitute.
How about some of these great recipes and ideas to make your pasta even more exciting?
- Mix fresh-chopped herbs, lemon juice and olive oil for a big flavor punch.
- Add tomatoes and black olives with a dash of Italian dressing, or pesto and toasted walnuts.
- How about this amazing pasta frittata from USDA?
Pasta is an inexpensive and tasty grain that can have great utility in your pantry. Follow the MyPlate recommendation to keep your grains or starches about one quarter of your meal, and choose whole wheat pasta. Experiment with flavor, color and texture to dress up your pasta from ho-hum to wow!
If you’re interested in learning more about healthy cooking, meal-planning or nutrition, contact your local VA. Programs vary from facility-to-facility and may include the following:
- The MOVE! Program, which has different options such as individual visits, group nutrition and exercise classes and some VAs have a TeleMOVE option which allows you to participate from your own home.
- Registered dietitians are also available to meet with you one-on-one to help you with a plan specific to your needs.
- Some VAs have healthy teaching kitchens to demonstrate how to prepare healthy and delicious meals at home.
Sarah Lacoma is a registered dietitian at the Salem, VA Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She has been with the VA for more than three years. She is from a military family and is honored to provide services to the Veteran population.