The 5 Biggest Pasta Eating Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid
You bought for dinner brown colored pasta that the first ingredient was 100% durum wheat and you are thinking this is a good whole grain for health. WRONG! This is easy to fall for. And there is more.
Let me take you through five mistakes people commonly make when eating pasta and show you how to avoid them. Don’t worry, you can still keep pasta as part of your healthy eating plan.
1. Assume Whole Wheat Pasta is Whole Grain
Here’s the kicker – all pasta is refined. Even the brown colored, whole wheat pasta you felt so good buying for your health. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it. However, you need to learn to read labels for it and understand how best to work pasta into healthy eating.
When eating grains you want to aim for half or more of your grains to be intact grains or true whole grains. Intact grains are grains that contain all the three essential layers of the grain seed. The three layers are the bran, germ, and endosperm. All three of these kernel layers must be intact to be called an “intact grain.” Each of these layers offers different valuable nutrients. Leaving one or two out makes the food a whole bunch less nutritious.
Refined or white pasta removes two of these grain layers and the starchy endosperm layer is the only layer in the final pasta. This layer has few vitamins and minerals and spikes a person’s glucose level quickly especially if a large portion is eaten.
Many people find their blood sugars go out of control with lots of pasta and cravings and weight gain fall in with this roller coaster blood sugar ride that can occur.
Traditional Italian pasta is made with semolina flour, which is milled from durum wheat (a hard wheat that is high in the protein gluten, which gives this flour more elasticity and strength). Semolina is coarsely ground which is good but still it is made from refined grain. The term “enriched semolina flour” clues you in to the fact that the wheat is refined.
A better choice is to look for minimally processed pastas that come from 100% whole-grains. A 100% whole-grain pasta is processed some, but the good news is it has all three parts of the grain included so it is rich in nutrients and phytonutrients.
To find a 100% whole-grain pasta, look at the ingredient list and the only ingredient should be 100 percent whole-grain durum (means made with whole kernel) or 100% whole wheat durum. Don’t be fooled by these words: “made with whole grains,” “durum flour,” “durum wheat” or “multigrain.” These do not mean that the pasta is whole grain.
Other grains that are pastas but not the traditional semonlina flour pastas that work as a minimally processed or intact whole-grain are quinoa, buckwheat noodles (aka soba), whole grain spelt, or brown rice pastas.
2. Spinach is a Vegetable So Eat Spinach Pasta
I frequently get asked about spinach and tomato and other flavored pastas. Are they healthier? No, this is because they are just flavored pastas. They are no better than enriched white pasta unless they are made from 100% whole grains.
A cup of spinach pasta typically has just one tablespoon or less of spinach in it. So that will not make a vegetable serving. 🙁
3. Health Food Enthusiasts Eat Couscous So It Must Be Healthy
Couscous is a grain that is hard to know what to do with. It is made from semolina flour just like pasta so it is a pasta, but it is in the shape of a rice piece. So just like regular pasta, for it to be included in a healthy diet it needs to be whole-grain.
Whole-grain couscous is harder to find, but many health food stores carry it. Double check it is made from 100% whole wheat duram flour.
4. Pasta is the Star of My Meal
For most of us, the real problem with pasta comes from serving size perceptions. We have been led to believe pasta is a main dish. Most people menu plan thinking I’ll have pasta and a side of bread for dinner. Whoa! That will overload your body with carbohydrates and be low on the variety of minerals and vitamins it needs. Most people dish onto their dinner size plate 4 to 8 servings of pasta.
This is way out of whack. One serving of pasta is one fist for women and two fists for men. My fist is 1/2 cup and no more.
Go ahead and make a fist, how much is it? Now think about the last time you had pasta and how much did you eat? One serving? Or five servings?
To make this new smaller portion size work, add more tomato based sauce or make sure you are loading up on veggies with your pasta. If this won’t work then move your pasta from a main dish to a side dish.
5. Got Distracted While Cooking and Your Pasta is Overcooked
Cook pasta al dente. Overcooked pasta has a higher glycemic load, meaning that it can raise your blood sugar higher than if you cooked it al dente. Al dente pasta is firm and somewhat chewy, but never mushy. This is how Italians cook their pasta, al dente.
A work around overcooked pasta is when starchy foods are cooled their structure is reorganized again and the digestive enzymes in your gut can’t break the cooled starch down as easily. The food now contains more ‘resistant starch’, which is not broken down in your small intestine as most starch is and instead moves on to your large intestine.
In the large intestine starch that makes it this far in your body is converted into short-chain fatty acids which are helpful for preventing heart disease and possibly lowering blood pressure.
So next time you cook pasta, first follow the directions carefully for cooking until al dente firmness. It is a good idea to test it out with a fork too as it cooks, some package directions can be off.
If you do get distracted and end up with mushy pasta, don’t despair. Instead, throw it in the fridge for 30 minutes and serve the dish cool. Even saving some for the next day and eating the pasta dish cold works for a healthy pasta dish save.