How Bad or Good Is Pasta?

By Jean Tong, Nutritionist, Halley Medical Aesthetics

Pasta is energy-dense which explains why a majority of performance athletes consume them. The key word here is “performance athletes” because for the everyday person, this hard-to-resist source of calorie-laden meal doesn’t provide much in terms of nutrition. Pasta is a refined and processed food.

Pasta is made of durum wheat flour and a special kind of wheat with strong gluten. It is difficult to digest and gets stuck in the digestive tract. Pasta also encourages the growth of bacteria and yeast in the intestines. A fungal infection called Candida feeds on the pasta’s complex sugars that can ferment in your gut. That’s a good thing to know but not to experience, wouldn’t you agree?
 

But what if you are a pasta lover who wants to embark on a new healthy journey?

If gelato is the much-acclaimed healthier alternative to ice-cream, is there another option for the pasta lover? Well, there are choices of healthy pasta that one can indulge in sans the worries of harming the gut.

Wholegrain or wholemeal pasta is an excellent source of B vitamins and irons with a high level of alpha-linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3 fatty acids in our body. This alternative can be made from whole wheat, buckwheat or brown rice, but it can also be made from quinoa. Some are made from 100% whole grain but they can also comprise a mixture of whole grain, flax, and other ingredients that can boost the protein, fibre, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acid content.

Alternative choices extend beyond whole wheat. There are other substitutes like brown rice pasta, corn pasta, and buckwheat soba.
 

Keep your eyes on the sauce

It is important to know that wholegrain and traditional pasta contain the same calories although the healthier option contains more vitamins and fibres. One bowl of cooked plain spaghetti, without sauce, contains 221 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, 1.3 grams of fat, 3.2 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.5 grams of fibre. But a plate of a full cream spaghetti carbonara can come up to 580 calories! So mind the sauce.

Whatever your pasta type is, choice of sauce is a crucial factor when it comes to calories and health benefits. Sauce adds calories and sodium intake like no other. A healthier way to indulge is to prepare your pasta with olive oil, cook it with fresh tomatoes instead of using canned tomato puree. A lot of food courts and restaurants put a lot of cream when cooking the all-time favourite pasta carbonara to appeal to diners’ palette. But that should be avoided if you are looking for a healthier option. Cut down on the cream when cooking creamy pasta, and choose a low-fat or light cream option. In fact, the traditional carbonara is made without cream, using mainly eggs and cheese.

You can opt for healthy ingredients like fresh minced meats over fatty sausages or bacon. You can also have fresh vegetables, lean meat or fish as the side of a simple tomato pasta. Let the ingredients speak for the dish!

Pasta is a great energy source for the body. But remember to keep your portion to one cup of pasta per person. Eat healthily and you’ll stay healthy.

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