Food and Nutrition

Give Classic Pasta Dishes a Healthy Makeover

| by Mitzi Dulan

If you’re like most Americans, including myself, you LOVE pasta! Sometimes there’s nothing better than a nice big bowl of warm, hearty noodles, especially now with the cold winter weather upon us. But our favorite pasta dishes, the “classics,” are usually loaded with heavy cream sauce, multiple layers of full-fat cheese, and highly processed meats, adding up to one huge caloric bomb.

So how can you enjoy and stay warm eating your favorite pasta meals this winter without guilt?

Follow these tips to lighten up and boost the nutrition of the “Pasta Classics:”

Try Whole-Wheat Pasta: opt for the whole-wheat version. Not only will you benefit from the numerous health advantages of whole grains, such as lower blood pressure and reduced risk of chronic disease, but also the extra fiber will help you feel full sooner. This means you can eat less and still feel satisfied.

Use Reduced-Fat/Part-Skim Cheese: for many, cheese and pasta is as good of a match (if not better) as peanut butter and jelly. Enjoy the tasty addition of cheese to your pasta without excessive calories and saturated fat by selecting the reduced-fat or part-skim options. Watch portion sizes when adding the cheese. Use measuring cups to pour an exact amount and prevent extra sprinkling!

Overload on Veggies: tomato sauce doesn’t have to be the only veggie in your pasta dish. Pack on the veggies. There are so many to choose from: broccoli, spinach, eggplant, onions, olives, mushrooms, artichokes, and zucchini, just to name a few. Veggies add color, nutrients, and fiber without many calories. You can feel good about digging into your favorite pasta dish when it’s loaded with veggies!

Go Lean: whether it’s pasta Bolognese or meat lasagna, select proteins that are on the leaner side. The lower the fat content of the meat, the less bad cholesterol and fewer calories you consume! Try swapping ground turkey for ground beef to enjoy an even leaner version of your favorite meat pasta dish. Or go vegetarian using chopped up tofu or seitan. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find the best tasting healthier variation!

Opt for Tomato-Based Sauces: when choosing a sauce for your pasta, remember that white or cream-based sauces - yes, that includes Alfredo - tend to be higher in fat and calories. Select options that are red or tomato-based, such as marinara.

Need a recipe? Try cooking up these lighter, healthier versions of your favorite pasta meals:

Butternut Squash Mac N’ Cheese:

(Recipe taken from Foodie/Nutritionist)

Garden-Style Lasagna:

(Recipe taken from Cooking Light, March 2008)

Low Fat Baked Ziti with Spinach:

(Recipe taken from Gina’s Skinny Recipes)

Enjoy your healthy cooking. Make it a social event and invite family and friends!

Research assistance provided by Marsi Shapiro