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Pasta-tively Amazing! How to include pasta as part of a healthy meal.

Pasta is a perfect foundation for healthy, nutritious, and satisfying meals. It is generally eaten with nutrient-dense food partners, such as vegetables, a protein, and fats which makes it a nutritionally complete meal. Although linked to Italian cuisine, pasta is now considered staple food in many countries. It is a popular choice for a quick and easy meal. The world is full of pasta-bilties. You just need the right set of eyes to eat them.

How to include pasta as part of a healthy meal - tips from a Dietitian

Fun fact: Did you know that Pasta originated in China, not Italy?

While we all think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it is likely the descendent of ancient Asian noodles. The word pasta describes traditional Italian noodles. It is made from ground durum wheat mixed with water or eggs. The use of durum flour or semolina differentiates pasta from all other types of noodles. Durum wheat is characterized by its high gluten content and low moisture which makes it perfect for pasta production. The dough formed is then pressed into sheets, cut into a variety of shapes which makes a variety of pasta.

Life is about exploring pasta-bilities

Types of pasta

There are now hundreds of pasta choices at the grocery stores and restaurants. While it is nice to have such variety, it can be tricky to find a healthy option. The main types of pasta include:

White pasta (Also known as ‘Refined’ pasta). This type of pasta is made from refined flour which means that the outer layers of the wheat grains have been removed resulting in the loss of important nutrients.

Enriched pasta. Enriched pasta is fortified with three major B vitamins (niacin, Thiamine and riboflavin), iron and the B vitamin folic acid, which is essential for women of child-bearing age.

Whole grain pasta. Whole grain pasta is unprocessed which maintains its nutritional benefits. The nutrients provided by grains include carbohydrates, protein, fibre and a wide range of vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. Wholegrain foods can reduce the risk of developing certain diseases including coronary heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and diverticular disease. The high fibre content of wholegrain products also assists in the maintenance of the digestive system and can help prevent constipation.

Gluten free pasta. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and grains like barley, rye. Gluten-free pastas can be made from ingredients such as rice or corn. Gluten free pasta can be part of a gluten free diet. This diet is generally recommended for people who have coeliac disease.

Rice pasta. Rice pasta, as the name indicates, is made from rice flour. It is gluten free which makes it perfect for those who have coeliac disease.

Pulse pasta. This type of pasta is made using pulses such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and beans which makes it higher in protein and fibre. And guess what, it is gluten free too!

types of healthy pasta

Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes

13 Pasta shapes to choose from.

  1. Spaghetti - Spaghetti consists of long, thin noodles which is fun to twirl, easy to eat, and can be paired with a wide variety of sauces.

  2. Penne - Penne has a round, tube like structure, with diagonal cuts at either end. Best served that have a relatively thick sauce also the best type of pasta to use in pasta bake dishes.

  3. Lasagne - Large, flat sheets of pasta are known as lasagne. Lasagne sheets sometimes have a rippled edge, and they can be used fresh or dried.

  4. Ravioli - Ravioli are pillow shaped squares of dough that can be filled with cheese, seafood, meat or veggies and topped with sauce, served in soups or simply be drizzled with olive oil.

  5. Linguine - Very similar to spaghetti, linguine is a little flatter. The extra surface area means that it is perfect for pairing with lighter textures.

  6. Rigatoni - Much like penne, rigatoni are tubes with small ridges on the outside, but they are slightly wider and cut into a square. Best paired with chunky sauces full of vegetables.

  7. Farfalle - Known as ‘bow-tie’ pasta. The large surface area is why it best pairs with a cheese, or rich tomato sauce as the ‘wings’ hold the sauce perfectly. It also compliments a cold pasta salad.

  8. Fusilli - A spiralled, corkscrew like shape that pair perfectly with rich meat sauces or chunky vegetables as the chunks get caught in the twirls. Also can be baked into casseroles or pasta bakes too.

  9. Cannelloni - This type of pasta can either come flat or pre-rolled into large tubes, which are then stuffed with various fillings, such as spinach and ricotta cheese. This large pasta also pairs well with a simple, light sauces.

  10. Conchiglie - More commonly known as shell pasta as they look like open, rounded seashells. Available in various sizes, from thimble-sized, to big enough to fill the palm of your hand. The smaller ones are great for fresh sauces or bakes, and the larger sizes are perfect for stuffing.

  11. Tortellini – Tortellini is folded into hat-like shapes and the key is in the filling and not the sauce in which it is tossed. Pair with a simple broth to allows the ingredients inside the tortellini to really shine.

  12. Risoni – This tiny pasta look like grains of rice. It tends to absorb other flavours very well and cooks quickly. Classified as a soup pasta, it’s also great in salads and stews.

  13. Macaroni - Small tubes of pasta that are cut into short lengths and sometimes curved which is called Elbow Macaroni. Macaroni is the Mac in the delicious Mac and Cheese! Take a look at our free nutritious Easy Pea-sy Tuna Mac and Cheese Recipe.

Health benefits of eating pasta

Pasta can be included as part of a healthy meal plan, especially when it is combined with lean protein and vegetables.

  • Provides energy: Pasta is part of the carbohydrate food group. When digested, it is transformed to sugar which provides the body the energy to perform activities of daily life.

  • Low Sodium and cholesterol-free: Pasta is very low in sodium and is free from cholesterol reducing the risk of heart diseases and high blood pressure.

  • Added nutrients: Enriched pasta is fortified with vitamins B1, B6, and folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age.

  • Balanced diet: Pasta is part of the carbohydrate food group. 45-65% of total energy intake from carbohydrates is suggested as a healthy range. Pasta can also be combined with protein and vegetables which makes it a healthy and complete meal.

  • Low GI: Pasta has a low Glycaemic Index (GI) averaging at 45, so it does not cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly.

Dietary Guidelines

Pasta is part of the Grains food group.

Recommended intake of grains

Consuming at least 4-6 serves of grain foods per day is recommended for Australian adults, while the amount recommended for children and adolescents depends on their age and sex.

How much is 1 serve? ½ cup of pasta (75-120g) is considered 1 serve and it provides 500kJ of energy.

Holy Ravioli, I am stuffed.  How to include pasta as part of a healthy meal.

Holy Ravioli, I am stuffed.

How to include pasta as part of a healthy meal.

1. Think about the type of pasta you use.

Choose wholegrain and pulse pasta. Due to their high protein and fibre content, they increase satiety and prevent overeating.

2. Have three elements on your plate: carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables.

Combine your pasta dish with lots of vegetables to increase fibre content and add a lean protein. A great Spaghetti Bolognaise is an example of a healthy dish and will have you Gnoccing on Heaven’s Door! You can choose lean minced meat and add vegetables such as carrots, celery, capsicum, broccoli, and many others.

3. Practice portion control

Pasta is often categorized as an unhealthy food, however this idea is often linked with the sauces and toppings used, or the portion sizes. Remember moderation is key! According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, a healthy plate should consist of: ½ vegetables, ¼ protein, and ¼ carbohydrates. Following the healthy plate guide ensures that you have the variety of food you need and in moderation.

4. Choose a tomato-based sauce rather than white sauce.

White sauce is made of butter and thick cream which makes it high in energy and cholesterol. Tomato sauce is not only lower in calories, but it also adds to your vegetables’ intake. A penne for your thoughts!

5. Make your own pasta

Homemade pasta has three ingredients: flour, eggs and water. This means that it is fresh with no added food preservatives. If you make your own pasta, you can create coloured pasta using natural ingredients - such as beetroot for purple /pink pasta, peas, spinach or parsley for green pasta. Homemade pasta is great way to get the kids involved in cooking too. They'll love the colours. This is especially helpful for fussy eater as it can improve their relationship with food and eating.

Homemade pasta with natural colours

Penne for your thoughts

What’s your favourite pasta dish? With so many options for shapes and sauces, pasta is a regular staple with most Aged Care and Childcare menus. For recipes and menu reviews or menu development, our Dietitians are here to help. Our Aged Care recipe book and Childcare Recipe Book will be released in 2024 and menu reviews are available before every season. Speak to our team to find out more.


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