Pasta has a long, delicious history that dates back to 3,000 BC. Our modern pasta dishes are healthy, quick, and sure to please your taste buds.
While pasta in its many forms has stood the test of time, the exact origins of pasta remain contested. Evidence that pasta existed in the 4th century BC can be traced back to a depiction in an Etruscan tomb. Although Italy lays claim to the invention of pasta, there is evidence that the Chinese were making a noodle-like food in 3000 BC, well before Marco Polo is said to have introduced pasta to Italy in the late 13th century. Even the Greeks believed that the god Vulcan invented a device that made strings of dough!
Still nutritious, inexpensive, and quick and easy to prepare, whole grain pasta indisputably remains a smart menu choice today.
Whole grain pasta has its place in a healthy diet. It is low in fat and sodium, and its low glycemic index means that it slowly breaks down in your body and helps you feel full and satisfied for longer. Paired with a healthy sauce or garnish, you have a meal that is quicker than takeout—the ultimate in healthy fast food.
Pasta dishes are infinitely variable—you probably have everything you need for a speedy supper in your pantry right now. Don’t have peas? Try broccoli florets or asparagus instead. Your options are limitless. Whether you are preparing a weeknight dinner for two or feeding a crowd, pasta always pleases. Find inspiration in the following recipes and enjoy a healthy and satisfying bowl of pasta today.
- Lemon Pasta with Peas, Zucchini, and Shrimp
- Chili Eggplant Noodles
- Tomato, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Pasta
- Greek Couscous Salad
- Carrot Orzo with Pistachio and Tarragon-Crusted Chicken
- Spicy Cilantro Pesto Pasta with Clams
Pasta for everyone!
Luckily, with the many varieties of healthy whole grain and gluten-free pasta available today, everyone can enjoy the comfort and nutrition of pasta. Eating whole grains has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. Choosing whole grain pasta is a delicious and easy way to include more vitamins and minerals and twice the amount of fibre than offered by regular wheat pasta. So experiment—try a variety of whole grain pastas, and prepare healthy, tasty, and wholesome meals in minutes.
In Canada, when wheat is milled to make flour, parts of the grain are separated during the milling process and then recombined to create different types of flour. Whole wheat flour is a nutritious choice that provides dietary fibre not found in white flour. Some whole wheat pastas are also enriched with riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. However, since whole wheat flour may have much of the germ removed, 100 percent whole wheat may not necessarily translate to whole grain. Read your labels carefully.
An ancient grain with a nutty flavour, spelt flour can easily be substituted for wheat flour in pasta or other baked goods. Many people with wheat intolerances find spelt products easier to digest; however, spelt does contain gluten and is not recommended for those with gluten allergies. Spelt has greater water solubility than wheat, which allows its nutrients to be easily absorbed by the body. Spelt is a nutrient powerhouse, providing a good source of protein, dietary fibre, B vitamins, and manganese.
The oldest cultivated grain in the world, farro was first domesticated in the Middle East and can grow in very poor soil conditions. Like spelt, farro has a nutty flavour, and its gluten is more readily digestible. Farro is also high in protein, dietary fibre, and magnesium.
This South American grain makes a healthy pasta. Quinoa is not only a good source of dietary fibre, magnesium, iron, and riboflavin, but also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa pasta will bulk up the protein content in a vegan diet, and research has shown that when eaten regularly, quinoa can reduce cholesterol.
Another hearty grain, rye makes a very toothsome pasta. Since its gluten structure is less elastic, it makes for denser breads and pastas. Also because it is difficult to separate the different parts of the grain during milling, rye flour is usually higher in nutrients than other flours. Rye is a source of fibre, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
A nutritional powerhouse, flax, while not a grain, has a very similar vitamin and mineral profile to that of grains. In pasta, flax is usually mixed with another whole grain flour. Flaxseeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids and are high in fibre, magnesium, thiamine, and phosphorus.
With a name derived from the ancient Egyptian word for wheat, kamut is an ancient relative of durum wheat. Like spelt and farro, kamut may be suitable for people with wheat intolerances, as kamut is easier to digest than wheat. Kamut is a good source of protein, fibre, thiamine, and selenium.
A wholesome and nutritious gluten-free option, brown rice pasta is readily available in many grocery stores. Brown rice is less processed than white rice and therefore retains more nutrients. A good source of manganese and selenium, brown rice also has four times the amount of insoluble fibre as compared to its white cousin.
Grown worldwide, buckwheat makes a tender and chewy pasta. One of the most readily available forms of buckwheat pasta is the Japanese staple, soba noodles. Buckwheat is gluten free, but be sure to read labels carefully, as buckwheat is often mixed with rice, potato, or wheat flour when making pasta. Buckwheat is a good source of manganese, which can help metabolize cholesterol.
Dried or fresh ?
Pasta is categorized simply as either dried or fresh. Fresh pastas frequently contain eggs, while dried pasta is more often made without eggs. The addition of eggs raises the pasta’s cholesterol content. Fresh pasta is often used for filled pastas, and the addition of a meat or cheese filling will also increase the saturated fat and sodium content. As far as taste and quality goes, there is a common misconception that fresh pasta is better, but this is simply not true. Look for good-quality products with as few ingredients as possible—this is the key to good pasta.
One of the most remarkable things about pasta is the hundreds of different shapes and sizes available. Although this does make pasta fun to eat, it is really a case of form following function. Each pasta shape is designed to accommodate a different type of sauce or garnish. Long, thin pasta such as angel hair is best served with a thin sauce. Thicker pasta such as fettuccini or spaghetti works well with more robust sauces. Pasta with ridges or holes is perfect for chunky sauces that are caught in the grooves of the pasta.
Replenish your body post-workout
High-intensity activity can leave the body depleted of nutrients, so it’s important that we replenish with a meal rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. Just 3oz (85g) of clams contains 22g of protein and 132 percent of our daily recommended intake of iron. Iron is a key nutrient for athletes, as it carries oxygen to active muscles. Serve them with a high quality whole grain pasta cooked until just al dente, which has a lower glycemic index than soft cooked pasta.
Perfect pasta dos and don’ts
- Do remember that 85 g of dried pasta will yield about 1 1/2 cups (350 mL) cooked pasta.
- Do cook pasta in lots of boiling water. Make sure there is enough water for the pasta to move freely while cooking, about 6 litres of water per pound of pasta. Too little cooking water will result in a sticky lump of unevenly cooked pasta.
- Do salt the pasta water once it comes to a boil. Add about 2 Tbsp (30 mL) salt for every 6 litres of water. Well-seasoned water will ensure a well-seasoned plate of pasta and will require the use of less salt when finishing the dish.
- Don’t add oil to the water. If there is sufficient water, the pasta should not clump. Oil will prevent your sauce from evenly coating the cooked pasta.
- Don’t break pasta to fit into the pot. For long pasta, allow the ends to stick out until the submerged portion has softened, about 45 seconds. Stir to bend the softened pasta and submerge the straight ends.
- Do stir pasta once it is added to the pot until the water returns to a boil. This will prevent pasta from clumping and sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Do cook your pasta al dente, as this reduces the amount the pasta will raise your blood sugar.
- Do have your sauce warmed and ready before your pasta is done.
- Don’t rinse your pasta in water. Instead, transfer drained pasta directly to your sauce. Rinsing will wash away starch that helps the sauce adhere to the pasta. Only rinse your pasta if you intend to serve it cold, in which case you should toss it with a little of the sauce or olive oil to stop it from sticking as it cools.
- Do save some of the pasta water. When added to the pasta sauce, the reserved pasta water helps thin and loosen the sauce, allowing it to better coat the pasta. The starch in the water also helps the sauce to stick to the pasta.