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Is pasta healthy?

02 Oct 2020
Is pasta healthy?

‘Pasta fresca all’uovo’ (fresh egg pasta) or ‘pasta secca’ (dried pasta); ‘liscia’ (smooth) or ‘rigata’ (grooved) – these are all important questions when it comes to pasta. There are over 300 different ‘formati di pasta’ (pasta shapes) and it comes as no surprise that Italy is the largest producer and consumer of pasta worldwide. Italians consume an average of 26 kilograms of pasta per person each year with more than 60% consuming pasta daily. This is six times the average consumption in Australia and five times the consumption of pasta in the world. Is pasta healthy?

Pasta can be healthy for you

In Italy, there is a much higher life expectancy rate. I know what you are asking. How can there be such a high life expectancy when Italians eat so much pasta? Pasta can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation, in fact, the Italian diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world. We are not suggesting that eating a lot of pasta will help you lose weight. It is not the pasta itself that is healthy or unhealthy. There are two important factors that make pasta healthier for you:



 

1.How you cook the pasta

If you read through all of our pasta recipes, you’ll see one thing in common. In absolutely all pasta recipes we advise to cook pasta ‘al dente’; literally meaning ‘to the tooth’ in Italian and in other words, firm to the bite. Why? That’s how Italians serve it, but it is also healthier for you. The shorter the pasta cooking time, the lower the Glycemic Index (GI). Overcooked pasta causes blood sugar levels to spike suddenly and then crash a few hours later, leaving you feeling tired and hungry again. Instead pasta that is cooked ‘al dente’, takes longer for your body to break down the carbs, keeping your blood sugar levels more stable and body perfectly fuelled. This makes you less likely to overeat and snack after your meal which is a very unhealthy habit.

2.What you serve with the pasta is what makes it healthy

Italian pastas can absolutely be healthy if you combine it with fresh fish, vegetables, olive oil and nuts. Healthy pasta ingredients include tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, oregano, parsley and basil. Italians are also a big fan of portion control and less fat. Sure, Italians eat their pizza and pasta, but their portion sizes are half the size than many Australian meals. There is also a moderate consumption of alcohol in Italy. Foods that are related to a healthy Italian diet and therefore a longer life include:
Extra virgin olive oil – Olive oil is one of the main ingredients of many pasta dishes and linked to living longer. It is particularly rich in monounsaturated “healthy fat” that is full of antioxidants. Regular consumption of olive oil has health benefits such as protection of the body against free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging) and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer
Fresh vegetables – When it comes to eating vegetables, more is more. Vegetables are rich in antioxidants to protect the body against free radicals. They also contain essential vitamins, minerals and fibre with health benefits including lower risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease and reduced blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Italians have a high consumption of fruits and vegetables in their diet – with many Italians still living off the land. Instead of thinking ‘what can I buy that is healthy’, Italians eat what they grow – which is healthy. The recommended fruit and vegetable intake is at least 400 grams per day, ideally five servings of 80 grams. One thing is for sure – many Australians and people from other countries of the world are not eating enough fruit and vegetables

  • Garlic – Garlic is super tasty in pasta dishes and the health benefits go on and on. Garlic is rich in antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals. It is also great for boosting the immune system, which is especially important for elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems. It also reduces the risk of common brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and reduces the risk of certain types of cancer. Consult your doctor for medical advice, but given the benefits of consuming garlic has on the body combined with its ability to fight infectious disease, it makes sense that garlic can help you live longer
  • Fresh fish and seafood – I love fish and seafood in pasta and the Italian Spoon website has plenty of recipes. Fish is rich in protein, vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids and various other vitamins and minerals which are important for optimal function of your body and mind. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for development of the brain and eyes which is why expecting and nursing mothers should eat a sufficient amount. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids have benefits in reducing symptoms of depression, and significantly increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. Consumption of fatty fish at least once or twice a week (ideally 2-3 times) can make you a happier person, reduce risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and dementia and may even lead to improved sleep due to vitamin D content. As Italians consume more fish, they have a lower risk of diseases and slower rates of cognitive decline which improve quality of life and contribute to living longer.
  • Hydration – To maintain heathy hydration, wash your pasta down with water. People should drink from 2 to 3 litres of water per day. We need water to maintain the balance of body fluids, which is essential for digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, maintenance of body temperature and much more. Italians consume a high amount of water and why not? The more hydrated your cells are, the firmer and brighter your skin will be – there’s your fountain of youth right there. On the opposite scale, dehydration has negative effects on healthy aging.




Live healthy like an Italian

Enjoying a healthy portion of pasta tossed in fresh fish or vegetables is not only the road to a tasty but healthy Italian diet. Be mindful that being healthy is lifestyle choice, it not just about the food that you eat. Italians definitely know the secret to a healthy lifestyle. They are active and will go for a ‘passeggiata’ (leisurely walk) with friends and family in the afternoon or after dinner as a form of entertainment. There is one more secret to leading a healthy life and that is to get a good night’s sleep, every night. Poor sleep is strongly linked to weight gain. This is because it affects hormones that regulate hunger and also interferes with your metabolism. Additionally, when we are running on low energy, we tend to turn to high fat and high sugar foods (and bigger portions) for comfort and a boost. You are also less likely to be active when you are tired and have overeaten.
Here are a few ideas for healthy pasta dishes:
Penne pasta 'al pomodoro' (with Italian tomato sauce)Fusilli pasta with 'vedure arrosto' (roasted vegetables)Penne pasta ‘al pomodoro’ (with Italian tomato sauce)
Fusilli pasta with ‘vedure arrosto’ (roasted vegetables)

Linguini pasta with Genovese pesto sauceLinguini pasta with Genovese pesto sauce
Garganelli pasta with pumpkin and sageGarganelli pasta with pumpkin and sage

Vegetable lasagneVegetable lasagne
Calamari pasta (Calamarata)Calamari pasta (Calamarata)

 

 

Discover many more pasta and Italian recipes online at www.italianspoon.com.au.

Happy cooking X

Vanessa Bottaro

Founder and Owner at Italian Spoon
What is second best thing to being in beautiful Italy? Cooking and writing about Italian food, of course!

I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband Simone and two children. They are my first love! Italian Spoon brings my second love for cooking Italian food and blogging to life and I am loving it!

I hope to inspire you to continue the tradition of Italian home cooking. Buon appetito!
Vanessa Bottaro

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