Transitioning to a healthier lifestyle can be hard, especially when it comes to food. You have to look out for bad fats, funky chemicals added for ‘flavor’, like THBQ, and harmful hormones and antibiotics sneaking their way into our food supply. With misleading food labels like “all natural,” “made with whole grains,” “0g Trans fats” and “rich in fiber” — just to name a few — it’s no wonder people struggle to find a healthier diet.
So, you love pasta!. You’d never make it on a low-carb diet, but there are certainly other ways to lighten and make your meals more healthy. Believe it or not, given the right ingredients, pasta can be healthy, too. It’s all about limiting the fattening and high sodium sauces in favor of healthier alternatives.
Pasta won’t make you fat, eating too many calories will. And since one 2 oz serving weighs in at only 210 calories, you can enjoy a pasta dinner without worrying about your waistline.
To keep it healthy, you’ll need to keep it whole wheat or whole grain. When you choose whole-wheat pasta instead of regular to make the pasta recipes below, you’ll get more than twice as much fiber per serving. Almost every major brand of pasta at the supermarket offers a whole-wheat or whole-grain option. Plus, whole-wheat and whole-grain pasta have a nutty flavor and a pleasant chewy texture that I have grown to prefer over white flour pasta. Whole grains also tend to have a lower glycemic index, which means they don’t spike insulin levels. Also, the longer you cook pasta, the higher the glycemic index, so only cook pasta to the al dente stage.
Whole-grain pastas-from whole wheat to spelt-are increasingly easy to find on grocery shelves and in restaurants. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 48 more new whole-grain pastas are now on store shelves since 2005. And because many product labels boast “wheat” or “grain” content, it’s helpful that the Whole Grains Council in Boston, Massachusetts, has introduced a food packaging stamp, easing buyers’ confusion about which foods have whole grains. The stamp indicates whether the product is a Good Source (which offers a half-serving of whole grain per portion), an Excellent Source (a full serving of whole grain), or 100% Whole Grain/Excellent Source (a full serving with no refined grains). Still, the stamp system is voluntary, so as an alternative, look for whole grain to be first on the product’s ingredient list.
Whole grain pasta is recommended for diabetics and those who are at risk for heart disease. Brown rice pasta is recommended for people with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Quinoa corn pasta is also good for people suffering from celiac disease and those who have wheat allergies, heart disease or diabetes, since it is higher in minerals, B vitamins and easier to digest. Doctors say people with wheat allergies, heart disease or diabetes could also benefit from eating buckwheat pasta since it contains no wheat or gluten. In tests results reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, buckwheat groats products significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin responses.
Next, look at what type of sauce you typically put on your pasta. This is usually what makes a normal pasta dish totally unhealthy, especially if you use sauces that are loaded with fat and calories. Stick to sauces that are low in sodium and sugar.
After you decide on the the type of pasta and sauce, take a look at what protein you put into your pasta dish. If you’re adding pork sausage and ground beef with a high fat content, you’re adding hundreds of calories to your dish. Try lean chicken breast or lean ground turkey. If you really miss the beef flavor, add a small amount of beef with a low percentage of fat to your sauce.
Add some healthy veggies to your dish and some fresh herbs to give it the kick you miss from the lowered salt content. Some fresh basil is always great, but choose what you like and sprinkle a bit on top.
Seafood and pasta are a great match and healthy seafood pasta recipes offer plenty of choices.
Fettuccine with Clams, Turmeric and Hot Pepper
- 8 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups packed whole basil leaves plus 1/2 cup chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
- Finely grated zest of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3/4 pound whole wheat fettuccine
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Loosely wrap the garlic cloves in foil and bake for about 25 minutes, until very soft. Peel the garlic.
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the roasted garlic, turmeric and crushed red pepper; cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the basil leaves, black pepper, wine and clam juice, cover and cook over low heat until the liquid has reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Strain the reduction into a large pot, pressing on the solids.
Bring the strained liquid to a boil. Add the clams, cover and cook, shaking the pot a few times, until they start to open, 3 minutes; as the clams open, transfer them to a bowl and keep covered. When all of the clams have opened, boil the broth over high heat until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime zest and lime juice.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.
Add the pasta to the pot with the reduced clam broth and toss to coat. Add the butter, tossing well over moderate heat, until melted. Transfer the pasta to bowls. Top with the clams and chopped basil. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Spaghettini with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Chili Crumbs
- 2-3 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored and scored on the bottoms with an X
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup coarse, dried sourdough bread crumbs (about 2 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Crushed red pepper
- 12 ounces whole wheat spaghettini (thin spaghetti)
- 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons finely shredded basil
- 1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put the plum tomatoes in a small baking dish and drizzle with the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, just until the skins loosen and the tomatoes are barely softened. Let cool slightly, then peel and chop the tomatoes. Put them back into the baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and a pinch of crushed red pepper and season with salt. Remove to a separate bowl.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until barely al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
In the same skillet used for the breadcrumbs, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Season the shrimp with salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper and cook over high heat, tossing once or twice, until barely cooked, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the basil, roasted plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and pasta along with the reserved pasta cooking water and cook, tossing, until the shrimp are pink throughout and the pasta is coated in a light sauce, about 1 minute. Transfer the pasta to bowls, top with the bread crumbs.
Pasta with Fish, Lemon and Capers
Yield: 6 generous portions
- 1 ½ pounds swordfish steaks or scallops or fish of choice
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced thickly
- 3 tablespoons capers, drained
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Zest of one lemon, grated
- 2 cups clam juice
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, linguine or spaghettini.
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Trim and discard the skin and any very dark red meat from the swordfish. Cut the fish into ½” dice. Toss the swordfish with the flour, salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles. Cook half of the coated swordfish pieces until golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes. Remove the browned fish with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, if needed, and the remaining fish.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. In the same pan cook the garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, capers, parsley and lemon zest slowly in the remaining olive oil until the onions are golden and tender, about 5-6 minutes. Pour on the white wine and stir gently to dislodge any of the brown bits remaining in the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by one half.
Add the clam juice, tomato sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes until slightly thickened. Add the swordfish, any accumulated juices and the lemon juice to the sauce and warm through, 2 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, drain and return to the pot. Pour the sauce over the pasta and simmer over low heat stirring constantly until the pasta is well coated, about 2 minutes.
Turn the pasta out onto a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the basil.
Italian Style Pasta with Tuna
- 1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta, shape of choice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 12 sun-dried tomato-halves packed in oil, drained and minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 can (15 oz.) rinsed and drained Cannellini beans
- 1 can (6 oz.) tuna, well drained and broken into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup sliced olives, such as Kalamata and green Cerignola
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Reserve a 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion, stirring often, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to small bowl and mix the tomatoes, oregano and pepper flakes to taste. Set aside.
Add remaining oil to skillet and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add beans, tuna, olives and capers and cook until mixture is completely heated through. Mix in the tomato/ onion/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring often, until heated. Add cooked pasta and pasta water and heat through, tossing to mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with parsley.
- 1/3 cup flour (Wondra dissolves instantly)
- 3 cups low-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups thinly sliced onion
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup low-fat cream cheese
- 1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 3/4 lb. medium. shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into thirds
- 3/4 lb. scallops, cut into thirds
- 1-6 oz. can crabmeat, drained or use ½ pound of fresh crab meat
- 3 large eggs
- 15 oz. carton low fat ricotta
- 12 whole wheat lasagna noodles, pre-cooked according to package directions
Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray.
Place flour in large saucepan. Gradually add milk. Cook, whisking constantly until smooth, about 1 minute. Stir in butter, thyme, salt and pepper; bring to boil. Cook 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups Parmesan and nutmeg. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic; saute 4 minutes. Add cream cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Stir in half-and-half; 1/4 cup chopped parsley, shrimp, scallops and crab. (The fish will continue to cook in the oven.) Remove from heat.
In a food processor combine eggs and ricotta. Process until smooth and stir into seafood mixture.
Spoon 1 cup the white sauce into the baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles on top. Spread the noodles with 1/2 of the ricotta seafood mixture.
Repeat layers with 4 noodles, the remaining ricotta seafood mixture and remaining 4 noodles.
Pour remaining white sauce over the top layer of noodles and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
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