The National Pasta Association reports the average American consumes about 20 pounds of pasta each year.
In recent years, consumers have been increasingly looking for low-carb alternatives to their favorite side dishes. Deciphering the marketing for these products can be challenging, making it difficult to choose the best option. For example, green colored spinach pasta does not necessarily translate to the nutrient value of spinach. The pasta likely has a bit of vegetable puree and color added to disguise as a health product.
If you’re like me, dinner is a success if pasta is on the table. Whether served with a classic Italian slow-cooked tomato sauce or as lo mein accompanied by a tasty Asian-inspired sauce, pasta is simply delicious. However, eating too much regular pasta racks up calories and excess refined carbohydrates. When considering pasta options, think about the sauce you’re serving it up with. A fried chicken parmesan or classic alfredo sauce aren’t healthy regardless of the pasta you choose.
Here’s how some common pasta substitutes stack up:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than 10% of American adults eat enough vegetables. Given our nation’s need for nutrient-dense vegetables, it’s no secret that vegetable noodles are among the healthiest pasta substitutes. From spiralized zucchini and sweet potato to spaghetti squash, vegetables can be shaped into pasta with the right equipment. The downside? Vegetables simply do not taste like regular pasta and may lack a satisfaction factor. Finally, preparation is key in avoiding a soggy aftermath.
Zucchini Noodle (Zoodle) Cooking Instructions:
- Salt and pepper noodles and wrap in paper towel.
- Cook in pan on medium-high heat covered with spray oil for 3-5 minutes.
- Drain water from pan and pat dry.
- Toss in sauce and eat right away to avoid zoodles getting soggy.
Bean-based pastas are made from a variety of beans, such as chickpeas, lentils and black beans. Beans are ground into flour, then mixed with water to form the noodle. Of all pasta substitutes, they have the most fiber, another chronic disease-fighting nutrient lacking in many American diets. In fact, bean-based pastas boast four times the fiber of regular pasta and have twice the amount of plant-based protein. If your mission is to cut calories, you might be out of luck, as most bean-based pastas serve up just as many calories as wheat pasta. And finally, as with most specialty products, bean-based pastas come with a higher price tag than their wheat counterpart.
Chickpea Pasta Cooking Instructions:
This type of pasta cooks very similar to its regular counterpart. Cook according to package instructions.
Miracle noodles are sometimes made from tofu and contain fiber from an Asian plant called konjac root. Low in calories, a whole package boasts only 20 calories, mostly from fiber and protein. The downside? Texture and a bit of a smell. A fibrous component in the konjac root gives the noodles their off-putting smell, which is why they come packed in water. When it comes to preparing them, getting the right texture can be a challenge. Dehydrating the noodles on high in a nonstick pan and stirring them often helps make them more like traditional pasta. To avoid rehydrating the noodles, incorporate the noodles with sauce as the final step.
Shirataki Noodle Cooking Instructions:
- Rinse and drain shirataki noodles and rinse in lukewarm water. This will help get rid of the smell.
- Pat noodles dry and sear in non-greased pan on high heat to rid of extra water for 3-5 minutes. Toss often to avoid burning.
- Mix with your favorite sauce and serve immediately.
Nutrient Comparison Guide
Nutrients in one serving listed on package Regular, wheat pasta Shirataki Noodles Zoodles Chickpea Pasta Calories 200 kcal 10 kcal 35 kcal 190 kcal Fat 1 g 0 g 0 g 3.5 g Total Carbohydrates(Sugar)(Fiber) 42 g(2 g)(2 g) 3 g(0 g)(3 g) 7 g(0 g)(2 g) 32 g(5 g)(8 g) Protein 7 g 0 g 2 g 14 g
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more information and recipes, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
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