2017-09-01 / Health & Fitness

HEALTHY CHOICES: Setting trends in the grocery aisle


Pasta has a reputation of being a comfort food. Surprisingly to some, a 2015 study re­ported in The American Jour­nal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat refined grains face an increased risk of depression. Traditional Italian pasta is made with semolina flour, which is milled from du­rum wheat. Often after check­ing the fine print on the nutri­tion label the term “enriched semolina flour” tells you that the wheat is refined.

Enriched white pasta has been stripped of its nutri­ents and likely is chemically bleached. The consumption of wheat flour is thought to in­crease inflammation in the body and is extremely acidic. It can disrupt the good intestinal bacteria in your digestive system. Wheat flour has been shown to cause addiction, mak­ing you crave it and eat more.

Whole Foods named alter­native pastas one of the top 10 food trends for 2017. There are a lot of healthier options out there but you still have to read labels before you buy. If you’re trying to eat fewer carbohydrates, you may be disappointed to discover that the carbohydrate counts of these new pastas aren’t always much lower than regular pasta.

Black bean and quinoa pasta with seared scallops and mixed seafood in olive oil and white wine sauce. Black bean and quinoa pasta with seared scallops and mixed seafood in olive oil and white wine sauce. Legume pasta potentially can have a low glycemic index when fiber is taken into ac­count. The legume family includes beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. A review published in the open-access science journal PLOS ONE last year reported on properties of 100 percent le­gume pasta. “Legumes are glu­ten free, rich in plant proteins, rich in dietary fibers and in re­sistant starch (which functions like soluble fiber).” The texture of the legume pasta was weaker with low springiness scores.

An example of bean pasta can be made of 100 percent mung beans. This pasta is ex­tremely high in protein and fiber and fills you up quickly. The noodles are a bit more chewy than traditional pas­ta. Another option, chickpea pasta, provides a texture close to that of regular pasta, and it tastes mild with a subtle toasty flavor. Nutritionally, it boasts twice the protein, four times the fiber and three times the iron of regular pasta. Another option if bean pasta isn’t to your liking, you can simply add some beans into your sauce for the extra nutrition.

Consumer Reports tested 13 alternative pastas and all had enough fiber to be considered a good source (3 or more grams per serving). But some had 8 or more grams. “Getting more fiber has many health ben­efits,” says Dr. Marvin M. Lip­man, Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. “But if you aren’t used to consuming large amounts in one sitting, it can cause bloating, cramping, and gas.” To avoid these issues, he says, increase fiber intake grad­ually and drink plenty of water.

You can also find pastas made from quinoa, kamut, amaranth and buckwheat (soba noodles). There are “flavored” pastas, such as spinach and to­mato, but unless they are made from whole grains, they are no different nutritionally from regular pastas. They usually contain only traces of vegeta­bles for coloring and a hint of flavor at best. A cup of cooked spinach pasta contains the equivalent of less than a table­spoon of spinach.

A great way to obtain your serving of vegetables through an alternative to pasta is us­ing zucchini & squash noodles. They aren’t technically pasta but are a great option if you are try­ing to go grain-free or want a healthy, light alternative to tra­ditional pasta. Zucchini vegeta­bles can be made into noodles using a tool called a spiralizer. You can eat the noodles raw or warmed slightly in a skillet with sauce. Spaghetti squash is loaded with nutrients and has one-fourth of the calories of traditional pasta per cup. Once cooked in the oven, the yellow flesh of this squash will separate into long strands that can sub­stitute for noodles.

A tip from Dr. Andrew Weil, in addition to eating in mod­eration: “Remember to cook your pasta al dente (when it has ‘tooth’ to it) because it has a lower glycemic index than fully cooked pasta. Low-glycemic- load carbohydrates should be the bulk of your carbohydrate intake to help minimize spikes in blood glucose levels.”

The information in this column is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Susan Summerton, OD, is a board-certified optometrist at Ty­son Eye, a certified nutrition spe­cialist and an adjunct professor of nutrition at Hodges University. She can be reached at susan.sum­merton@tysoneye.com.

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