- Lean proteins make a bowl of pasta a nutritious meal.
- Fresh herbs add flavor and nutrients without calories or fat.
- Using alternative flour pasta is an easy health swap.
Pasta may not be the healthiest food in your pantry, but there are endless ways to make a pasta meal healthier. Often, that comes with adding some healthy additions.
“Enhancing pasta with a few simple swaps is a great way for people to effortlessly make small changes to their diets that will yield significant results,” said health research psychologist Bethany D. Lavins-Merillat whose work focuses on judgment, decision making, and how to help people make simple changes to engage in positive health behaviors.
If you struggle to make healthy, or healthier choices or really have no desire to eliminate pasta from your diet, add these ingredients to your next bowl of noodles for a healthier meal.
Add a veggie.
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“Veggies not only add additional fiber to your diet but also enhance the flavor of the meal,” says Lavins-Merillat. “Think outside the box, and if you can, purchase higher quality ingredients – such as San Marzano tomatoes instead of the traditional canned ones for a red sauce, and organic items on the ‘dirty dozen’ such as bell peppers, spinach, beans and squash. You will taste the difference and it will leave you feeling more satisfied with your meal.”
Greens like spinach or kale are also easy stir-ins, as they wilt with hot pasta. For red sauces, consider blending up cooked vegetables like squash, zucchini or peppers, which enhance the flavor and add extra vitamins. If you’re eating longer noodles, try for a half-and-half ratio between spaghetti or linguine and spiralized veggie noodles.
Make the sauce from scratch.
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Making your own sauce can only take a few more minutes than reheating a jar of marinara.
“All you need is a bit of olive oil and some fresh Parmesan cheese – upgrade to buying a block and grating it fresh if you are ambitious – for a simple flavor enhancer,” said Lavins-Merillat.
You can also cook tomatoes with garlic and herbs for fresh tomato sauce or whip up a healthier Alfredo with cashew cream.
Use fresh herbs.
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“Fresh herbs are a great way to kick up the flavor without added calories,” said Lavins-Merillat. Try growing basil and other herbs at home so you always have them on hand.
Switch up your protein.
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“For a savory and delicious switch, swap out ground meat for crumbled tempeh, add different types of beans to the mix and thicken your sauce with Greek yogurt for added flavor and a protein boost,” said Lavins-Merillat. “Make a sardine or salmon pasta toss instead of using sausage or try grilled tofu and shiitake mushrooms.”
Try different healthy pasta varieties.
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If pasta is your go-to for every meal, consider swapping your white flour pasta for healthier alternatives on the regular.
“At the end of the day, pasta can be a wonderful staple in your diet, and as long as you make sure it is 100% whole wheat or made from another whole food source, like beans or chickpeas, which can provide fiber and protein to fuel your day,” said Lavins-Merillat. “The best way to enhance it is to focus on whole food additions with limited ingredient lists, organic and non-GMO sources, and minimal sugar and salt additions.”
“Aside from whole wheat pasta, there is also buckwheat pasta, brown rice pasta, lentil pasta, quinoa pasta, chickpea pasta and a host of other options,” said Lavins-Merillat. “Just make sure to check the cooking instructions before beginning as some of these options may require different than normal cooking conditions, and be open to new tastes and textures as these pastas will each have a unique flavor profile that is similar, but not the same as traditional wheat pasta varieties.”
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