Is Pasta Healthy Or Fattening?

Many people who are trying to lose weight wonder is pasta healthy or fattening? Pasta, like many foods high in carbohydrates, often gets a bad reputation for being fattening; however, this does not have to be true.

Carbohydrates, though recently made out to be villains, are actually necessary to keep your body and mind running smoothly. When carbohydrates are broken down they provide a major source of glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for your body and the only source of energy for your brain. Many people who have tried to stick to very low-carb diets have suffered from low energy and bad moods. I know I would be in a bad mood if I never got to eat my favorite pastas!

Consuming too many carbohydrates can be fattening, but pasta itself is not fattening; cooked pasta has only about 200 calories per cup. Where you really get into trouble is with your pasta sauce. Pasta sauces that contain high calorie fatty meats, creams, cheese and other fattening ingredients can really make a pasta dish fattening. Tomato pasta sauces are usually not very fattening at all! Americans also have a tendency to eat too much pasta – portion control is important when controlling calories. Italians traditionally serve pasta as a side dish or as one course of a multi-course meal; not in the large mounds that are so common in the United States.

Along with being fattening, pasta has been criticized for being a simple carbohydrates and lumped into the same category as cake, pastries and white bread. The problem with all of these simple carbohydrates is that they spike your blood sugar resulting in excess insulin being secreted which encourages weight gain and a subsequent energy crash. Simple carbohydrates have a high Glycemic Index (GI) which is a number used to measure how quickly the body’s blood sugar level rises after the ingestion of a food. The good news is that Pasta has a GI of 41, which is similar to pears and lower than many types of bread. And one easy way to lower the GI of pasta is to cook it like the Italians – “al dente”.

Most pasta today is made from semolina flour obtained from durum wheat. This creates a firm dough which in turn also lowers the GI, while also providing a good source of nutrition. Homemade and dried pasta contain plenty of B vitamins, folic acid and iron. It’s low in sodium and, despite a prevalent myth, pasta is not high in cholesterol even though it is usually made with eggs. It was once thought that egg consumption needed to be drastically reduced due to their high cholesterol content, but subsequent research has shown eggs are quite healthy in moderation and greatly contribute to the health benefits of pasta. For those on a strict diet, however, pasta can be made without eggs, while the flour and olive oil content still make this pasta healthy.

Another option is to use dried pasta. This pasta usually does not contain eggs or oil but is made from 100% semolina flour and is quite firm when cooked.  The firmness of this pasta helps lower the GI index to less than bread, potatoes and white rice while still providing vitamin B, fiber and iron. Dried pasta can be stored up to 3 years, but be sure not to store your pasta in glass containers as the sunlight depletes the vitamin B.

Is Pasta healthy in other ways too?

Yes, homemade pasta can be quite healthy. It is not difficult to learn how to make pasta and homemade Pasta can be made even more nutritious with the inclusion of whole wheat flour, spinach, garlic and herbs that add to the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of the pasta. Fiber is another nutrient often lost in modern diets, but fiber is necessary for digestive health, hormonal balance and the prevention of certain types of cancers.

There are many easy pasta recipes which make this nutritious food very convenient for modern busy cooks as well. When trying to eat healthier, you don’t have to wonder “is pasta healthy” since there are many ways to prepare pasta that are. So go ahead and enjoy your pasta without guilt, just remember to go easy on the fattening meats and sauces and enjoy your pasta in moderation!

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