Spaghetti. Fusilli. Linguini. With so many shapes and sizes, pasta is very versatile. This makes it a family-friendly food that is also inexpensive. But how do you choose which is the best for your family? Here are some tips to help you when you are in the grocery store.
What is pasta?
In Italian, the word pasta means "paste". This refers to how the dough is made by combining wheat flour with a liquid, like water or milk. The term "pasta" is used to describe a wide variety of noodles made from this type of dough. Some doughs have a little egg added and are usually called noodles. Pasta made with rice flour is called rice noodles.
What to look for on the label
Whether you enjoy pasta or noodles, here are a few tips to help pick the healthiest ones:
Fibre – Looks for pastas that have at least 4 grams of fibre per serving. Some pastas on the market are also made with lentils and flax seeds which adds fibre.
Whole grain – Choose pastas where whole grain is the first ingredient. If you’re not used to the taste of whole grain pasta, mix it half-and-half with regular pasta.
Sodium – Look for a sodium content of less than 360 mg per serving.
How is fresh pasta different than dried pasta?
Fresh pasta is often made with eggs instead of water. Because it can go bad quickly, use it by the best before date listed on the package. It can also be frozen for up to 2 months.
Dried pasta has a long shelf-life, so stock up on the high-fibre kinds when they go on sale. Pasta generally doubles in size when cooked.
Will pasta make me gain weight?
That depends. Pasta can be a healthy choice if you eat a small serving and pair it with a lighter sauce like tomato. A Canada’s Food Guide serving of pasta is ½ cup (125 mL). However, it is easy to eat too much pasta! Large portions of pasta (like what you might get in a restaurant) topped with a creamy sauce will have lots of calories and fat. This can lead to weight gain.
How to cook pasta
Start with a big pot and lots of boiling water. A small pot, or using too little water in a big pot, crowds the pasta, cooks it unevenly and makes it sticky.
Bring water, covered, to a full rolling boil. Add pasta, stirring to separate strands or pieces. Continue to boil with the pot uncovered and stirring occasionally.
Check the package to see how long to boil the pasta. Start timing the cooking from when the pasta and water return to a boil. Remember to stir the pasta once in awhile to prevent sticking to bottom of pot.
Drain the pasta, and only rinse if the dish is being served cold. The starch that stays on the pasta will help the sauce stick to it. You don’t need to add extra oil.
Pasta, five ways
Toss three cups of your favourite high fibre pasta with a tablespoon of pesto and a cup of canned lentils (rinsed & drained).
Enjoy your pasta with tomato-based sauces. Add lots of veggies (like mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, broccoli) for a big boost of antioxidants and fibre.
Use up leftover chicken by tossing with your favourite pasta. Add chopped apples, grated carrots and raisins for a quick pasta salad. For a simple dressing, add 1 tbsp of curry powder to ½ cup of plain yogurt and 2 tsp of lemon juice.
Stuff pasta shells with a mixture of spinach and ricotta cheese. Spoon tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle some shredded cheese. Bake, covered, at 350ºF for 30 minutes.
Toss canned salmon with cooked pasta and sauce. Add green peas for added fibre.
Last Update – June 3, 2015