Pasta in the Vegetarian Diet

Pasta gets a lot of mixed reviews. The low-carb diet proponents will tell you that pasta is the worst thing you could ever put in your mouth and will cause huge sugar cravings that will make you not only fat but diabetic. The high-carb diet proponents will tell you that pasta is a wonderful source of energy and helps maintain a healthy weight. The pasta companies will defend their product, of course, so they are hardly a source of unbiased, scientific information. Then there are those sources of unbiased, scientific information that couldn’t explain anything in layman’s terms if they tried.

Pasta has a very important place in the healthy vegetarian diet, since grain is consumed in one form or another with virtually every meal. The low-carb proponents are right: eating a lot of pasta will make you gain weight and increase your risk for developing diabetes. Of course, they’re referring to the refined durum semolina pasta that most of us have eaten ever since we can remember, slathered in high-fat sauces and cheese. I’ve already addressed the whole vs. refined grain issue and its effects on blood glucose here. The high-carb diet proponents are also right: pasta is a good source of energy and can help you maintain a healthy weight. Of course, you have to exercise portion control, watch the fat content of the sauce you might use, and combine it with legumes and vegetables to make those complementary proteins.

Having lived with a Type 2 Diabetic father, and having majored in nutrition science as a result of the subsequent family education in Food as Medicine 101, I’ve pitched my tent in the healthy-carb camp. I stock my kitchen with whole wheat pasta, and if a recipe calls for a particular shape of pasta that I can’t find in whole wheat (or a whole wheat blend), I substitute a similar shape or size that I can find. Brown rice pasta is another whole grain alternative worth trying – just keep in mind that it has a different cooking time and flavor as well as smoother texture than whole wheat pasta, so don’t combine the two in the cooking pot (yes, I did this once and the results were not pretty).

Ease whole grain pasta into your diet if you’ve never tried it before. Start with a whole wheat blend, perhaps next time you make lasagna or a noodle soup. It took me several months to adjust when I made the switch. Whole wheat pasta is coarser in texture and earthier in flavor than its refined counterpart, but I’ve found that I really prefer it – on the few occasions I’ve eaten refined pasta in the last decade, I couldn’t believe how bland and soft it was.

Pasta recipes you can find on this Blog:
Ceci Penne Florentine
Cool Summer Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Grilled Asparagus Linguine with Mushroom Vinaigrette
Lasagna Roll-Ups
Pumpkin & Mushroom Lasagna
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

1 Comment so far

  1. John La Puma MD on July 19th, 2010

    I like your approach, SG: keep it up!
    Warmly
    John La Puma
    author, ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine

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