Dietitian Melissa Meier reveals how a few small tweaks can ensure that fettuccine remains your friend this season.
It’s getting cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to turn to unhealthy, stodgy foods to get you through winter. While we all love a little comfort from our dinner plate, traditional go-to picks tend to be packed with kilojoules and saturated fat, which aren’t good news for your waistline if consumed in excess.
Not to mention, they can also contain stacks of sodium, which can be harmful for your heart. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on rich, wholesome, hearty foods that will warm you up from the inside out during the colder months.
You just have to go about it the right way. Case in point: pasta.
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The good news is that pasta can easily be included in a healthy diet. Yes, it’s rich in carbohydrates, but carbs aren’t innately bad for you – that’s just a silly diet myth that pop culture has held on to for far too long.
When balanced out with plenty of lean protein and a little healthy fats, quality carbs are cornerstones of a dietitian-approved balanced diet. Trust me.
The downfall of pasta, however, is that most people serve themselves too much.
While you might be used to digging into oodles of noodles, a healthy portion for most people is just one cup of cooked, wholemeal pasta. That’s because half a cup of cooked pasta counts as one serve of grains – and the recommendation for women under 50 and men under 70 is six serves of grains per day.
That drops to four for women between the ages of 51 and 70, and three thereafter. For men in their 70s and beyond, it’s four-and-a-half.
For balanced blood sugars and the right composition of macro and micronutrients in each meal, the serves should be spread evenly throughout the day – that is, not lumped into a big plate of pasta at dinner.
What’s more, variety is essential in any nutritious eating plan, so banking on pasta to hit your grain target every day isn’t ideal. Instead, enjoy pasta two or three times a week at most, but include plenty of other wholegrain foods in your diet, such as bread, soba noodles, brown rice, quinoa and rolled oats.
Straight to the sauce
The actual pasta is only half the story – what you stir through it, as well as what you top it with and serve on the side, are also key to a healthy pasta-based meal.
A creamy pasta sauce breaks the bank in terms of kilojoules and not-so-good-for-you saturated fat, so a homemade tomato-based sauce packed with vegies is my go-to for a healthy mid-week meal.
Only have time for store-bought sauces?
Analyse the nutrition panel and opt for something with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g. For a five-star-rated meal, pair a cup of wholemeal pasta and homemade tomato sauce with a protein such as lean beef, prawns or lentils, and have a salad on the side for a boost of micronutrients and hunger-busting fibre.
Oh, and skip the pile of parmesan on top – a small sprinkling is all you need.
What about eating out?
The same principles apply when you’re out: opt for a small portion, add a side of veg, and keep the cheese (and the garlic bread and red wine) to a minimum.
Perhaps share that bowl of pasta with a dinner buddy, with a giant side salad to round out and bulk up the meal.
Who says models don’t eat pasta?
Melbourne-based model Brooke Hogan (pictured) spends a lot of time in a bikini or ballgown, so you might think she would avoid eating this carb-heavy dish altogether, but she tells Body+Soul: “It’s a myth that models don’t eat pasta – it’s all about balance.”
Brooke’s pasta hacks
“Switch up traditional pasta for zucchini spirals or even chickpea pasta. Substitute any cream with coconut cream, which is still super creamy without the heaviness of lots of dairy.
I also add loads of vegies, especially spinach – you can put an entire bag in and it will wilt away to almost nothing. It’s such a great way to get your daily dose of greens.”
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