Pleasant surprise: There are benefits to eating pasta

You might think there's nothing worse for your blood sugar than a bowl of pasta. It turns out that pasta has only a moderate effect on blood sugar levels.  (Sorry to inform you that the Italian bread you may eat with your pasta, however, is a different story.) Yes, pasta is high in carbs. But the type of wheat it's made from (durum wheat) appears to be digested more slowly than similar white flours used to make bread.

You can also thank the special protein structure of the dough for pasta's moderate glycemic load (GL). It's a protein "latticework" that traps the starch molecules so it takes more time for your stomach's digestive enzymes to get to them and turn them into blood sugar. The more thoroughly you cook pasta, though, the easier it is for your body to break it down.

Choose whole wheat pasta instead of regular old white pasta, and you'll have a serving or two of whole grain — and about three times as much fibre per serving.

Remember, you're aiming to make three of your daily carbohydrate servings whole grains, which will lower your risk of diabetes.

It's all about the sauce

Pasta is pretty much as good — or as bad — for you as what you eat with it. Pile on vegetables like tomatoes and spinach or steamed broccoli, add a little olive oil and garlic, and you've got a terrific low-GL meal.

Drown your pasta in cream sauce, and you might as well eat cheesecake. If you're watching your cholesterol, you might go a little easy on the egg noodles. It's no secret that they're made with eggs, and since eggs contain cholesterol, so do the noodles. (Although dietary cholesterol isn't the main contributor to high cholesterol levels.) Another option? Eggless "egg" noodles.

Health bonus

All white pasta is enriched with iron and B vitamins (pasta that's 100 percent whole grain is not). Pasta also contains some protein, although it's not a "complete" protein source, meaning that it's missing some of the amino acids that make up a complete protein. You can easily remedy this by sprinkling a little grated cheese on your pasta.

Perfect portion

One portion is 120 to 225 millilitres (1/2 to one cup). Serve 225 millilitres (one cup) of pasta as a main dish or 120 millilitres (1/2 cup) as a side dish to keep the GL within the medium range.

Pleasant surprise: There are benefits to eating pasta

Menu magic

Pasta has to be one of the most versatile foods ever invented. All you need to do is pick your pasta; for toppings, the sky's the limit. Think herbs, sautéed vegetables, beans, chicken, perhaps a bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

  • Grab a bag of frozen vegetables, cook them, and toss them with hot pasta, some olive oil, sautéed garlic and a bit of cheese for a healthy dinner in no time flat.
  • Cook any vegetable you like and purée it in the blender. Serve on hot pasta and top with herbs and spices of your choice.
  • Top pasta with meatballs made with ground turkey breast or extra-lean ground beef and some no-sugar-added tomato sauce. Serve with a nice big green salad.
  • Add pine nuts or chopped walnuts to your pasta dish. Remember, nuts and seeds are god for you, too.
  • Add beans, chickpeas or lentils to a modest portion of pasta to fill up your plate and lower the GL of the meal. You'll also get more protein.

Whatever you do, just enjoy the pasta.

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