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The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by an abundant variety of plant foods including fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, cereals, whole grains, potatoes, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Olive oil is the principal source of fat in this diet, and fish, especially fatty fish is a mainstay. Dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt) and poultry are eaten in low to moderate amounts, and eggs (as many as four) often appear on the weekly menu. Red meat is eaten only on occasion –- a few times a month and wine, although consumed regularly, is normally eaten with food and in modest amounts (no more than a small glass or two). Pasta meals are central to the Mediterranean Diet, not only because they are tasty, inexpensive and easy meals to prepare, but also because they are the perfect way to highlight and complement many of the other healthy foods in this diet. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
The Health Benefits of Pasta
Pasta is a perfect foundation for healthy, nutritious and satisfying meals: pasta is generally eaten with nutrient-dense food partners, such as fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheeses, poultry and lean meats. Pasta offers:
- SUSTAINED ENERGY: Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy. Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick, yet fleeting boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.
- LOW SODIUM & CHOLESTEROL-FREE: Pasta is very low in sodium and cholesterol-free. Per cup, enriched varieties provide a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins. Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of daily fiber requirements in every one cup portion.
- FOLIC ACID: Enriched pasta is fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age. FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this important vitamin. A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid, or 25% of the recommended daily intake.
- BALANCED DIET: Pasta is part of a well-balanced diet. Current dietary guidance calls for up to 65% of daily calories to come from carbohydrates, such as pasta.
- LOW GI: Pasta has a low Glycemic Index (GI) so it does not cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly. Blood glucose is sometimes referred to as blood “sugar”.
How Pasta Fits into a Healthy Diet
Pasta makes the perfect delivery system for the healthy foods you should have each day. Pair pasta with a variety of nutrient-dense foods and create meals that you can feel good about. Nutritious and delicious “pasta partners” include:
Not sure where to begin? Search through our Pasta Fits original recipe database. All of our recipes are approved by a Registered Dietitian and are as delicious as they are nutritious. Each recipe is developed to contain approximately 500 calories or less per serving. You can also check out our Pinterest page for more healthy meal ideas for every occasion.
Ever wonder why it’s a tradition for athletes to eat pasta before a big race or event? Carbohydrates such as pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy. Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick, yet fleeting boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.
Studies show there are no significant differences in weight loss over the long-term between low-carbohydrate diets and those considered “high” carbohydrate when dieters achieved similar calorie reductions
Pasta is a fat-free, low sodium food that can fit right in with your weight loss plan. One cup of cooked pasta contains just 100 calories, in addition to valuable vitamins and minerals. It also fills you up so you don’t feel hungry while trying to lose weight!
Pasta has a low Glycemic Index (GI) so it does not cause sugar in the blood to rise quickly. The GI measures how rapidly a carbohydrate triggers a rise in blood sugar – the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. A low GI means a slower rate of digestion, which can help with appetite control.
Glycemic Index Chart:
Focused on weight loss or reduced calorie diets? Creating lower calorie pasta meals is also simple. Try these tips below:
- Replace heavy sauces with low-calorie vegetable-based versions, such as fresh tomato sauce or a light pesto.
- You can also dress pastas with fresh herbs, garlic and just a drizzle of olive oil.
- To help reduce the calorie content of your favorite pasta dishes, swap out ¼ to ½ of the pasta specified in the recipe for the same amount of veggies. (For example, if a recipe calls for two cups of cooked pasta, replace one cup of the pasta with steamed broccoli and red pepper or zucchini and basil. You’ll subtract total calories per serving and add color and texture!)
- Another trick to promote weight loss is to replace ½ or ¼ your pasta with beans. Beans add fiber and fill you up so you won’t feel hungry later. They are also an ideal accompaniment to pasta – kidney beans prepared with pasta is an Italian staple!
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains in the wheat family like barley, rye, spelt, faro and bulgur. Foods made from wheat such as breads, cereals and pasta, contain gluten. Most people enjoy products that contain gluten without any side effects. A small group of people may have a gluten intolerance or allergy. For those individuals who have been diagnosed by a doctor with a gluten sensitivity, there are numerous gluten-free pasta options which allow them to enjoy a wide variety of pasta dishes.
Individuals who do not have gluten sensitivities derive no nutritional benefit from eating gluten-free pasta and will find that traditional enriched pastas provide good nutrient value, such as iron, folic acid and vitamin B.
Whole vs. Enriched Grains
Eating a balance of both whole and enriched grains is recommended by nutrition experts in order to ensure a diet rich in the essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promotes health and helps reduce the risk of chronic disease. Both whole and enriched varieties of pasta provide a perfect foundation for healthy, nutritious, and satisfying meals.
Whole Wheat or White Pasta
While whole and enriched grain pastas offer bountiful nutrients and health benefits, some people prefer white pasta (also called “refined”). Some people (and kids) favor the milder flavor and tenderness of white pasta. However, refined or white pasta is also a healthy choice, as it enriched with vitamins such as vitamin B thiamin, making it a significant source of these nutrients.
USDA Dietary Guidelines
USDA recognizes the important role carbohydrates such as pasta play in a healthful diet. That’s why 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 45 to 64% of your total calories from these kinds of nutrients. Exactly how can you do this?
Look at the USDA dietary guidelines. Grains should make up more than ¼ of your plate, or roughly 6 to 8 ounces for adults** per day (a 1 ounce serving is equivalent to ½ cup cooked pasta). Through MyPlate, the USDA encourages Americans to eat grains at every meal *based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Why Low-Sodium Foods Are Important
A diet that is high in sodium increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure as well as other negative health effects. The American Heart Association recommends foods with little or no salt to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and suggests you aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Tips for Low-Sodium Cooking
- Flavor with spices, herbs or lemon juice rather than salt
- Choose pasta partners with potassium, such as white beans, dark, leafy greens or salmon – they counter the effects sodium in your diet and may help lower blood pressure
- Use fresh fruits and vegetables
Pasta and Your Brain
With so many mixed messages out there about diet, it’s hard to know who to believe. There is no scientific evidence that eating grains will affect your memory or other cognitive function. In fact, a recent study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which examined adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and Mediterranean Diet patterns and their respective associations with cognitive change over an eleven-year study period, found both diets to have a protective effect against age-related cognitive decline in men and women 65 years of age or older.
To help alleviate some of the confusion around wheat in the diet, visit www.GrainsforyourBrain.org where you will find factual information and scientific research to answer any questions you might have.