A crowd-pleaser and a fast, nutritious meal, pasta is a frequent choice for families and solo cooks. But depending on what’s included in your dish, it can also quickly change from a great choice to a high-calorie meal. Here are some key tips to ensure your pasta stays on the right side of healthy.
Go whole wheat
There are many varieties of pasta available these days. If you’re looking to increase the nutritional value of your meal, opt for whole wheat pasta; it contains the bran and germ of the grain, leaving it high in fibre with more vitamins and minerals. Try it: Whole wheat fettuccine with anchovies, rapini and ricotta.
Chances are the amount of pasta you pile in your pasta bowl is two to three times more than you actually need (or end up eating). One portion of cooked pasta is about 1 cup of noodles — the equivalent of roughly 60g of dried pasta. Measure it … you’ll be surprised!
Increase the protein
Complex carbohydrates are great, but what’s even better is to balance them by adding protein. Including a protein in your pasta will help level your blood sugar and allow you to feel full for longer. Lean cuts of meat are best — you don’t increase the fat content inadvertently. (Note: Beans also make a great meatless option.)
Our 10 most popular pasta recipes
Pack it with veggies
This is where we can compensate for the smaller serving of pasta. If the one-cup serving isn’t going to be filling enough, add as many veggies as you want. Opt for a variety of brightly coloured vegetables to really give the dish a healthy boost.
Cook it al dente
Some say that al dente pasta is better for you, because the starches don’t break down as much as they do in fully cooked pasta, making it healthier. Personally, when pasta has a slight firmness to it, I find the touch of chewiness much more satisfying. Don’t overcook your pasta, and aim for al dente on spaghetti night.
Use red sauces
Avoid cream sauces. Yes, they’re delicious, but they’re also very high in fat (it’s not just the cream, it’s the butter). If you’re being mindful of healthy choices when choosing recipes, aim for one with a red sauce. (You’ll get a good kick of lycopene while you’re at it.)
Add some heat
Chilies also add great depth of flavour and are particularly suited to pasta dishes. Try it: Spicy spaghettini with goat cheese, tomato and artichoke.
Kitchen tip: Tone down the heat of chilies by deseeding them. See how easy it is in this video.
Originally published January 2014. Updated November 2017.