Traditional (white flour) pasta has garnered a pretty bad reputation over the last several years… As a high-carb food, it can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, so eating too much of it too often can set your body up for inflammation-related diseases and make you gain weight.
Yet for centuries, pasta has been part of the culture and diet of people living in the Mediterranean, where people not only live longer than here in the United States, but have lower rates of long-term, progressive illness, like heart disease. If they’re eating pasta, it can’t be all bad, can it?
It’s not—here’s why pasta works for folks in Italy, and the rules for making it work for you, too. It’s not hard. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll be healthier all around, for your efforts!
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So how can you make healthy pasta dinners that won’t run up your blood sugar and make you gain weight? It’s simple—just mind the 3 P’s:
The 3 P’s of Healthy Pasta Dinners
In Italy, pasta’s served as a small side dish with a main course of fish or another lean protein and veggies—but in the United States, it’s often the opposite. See the problem here?
The more pasta you eat, the greater its impact on your blood sugar, insulin response, and long-term health—and that’s where we get into trouble.
See, whenever we eat something – whether it’s pasta, an apple, or a cheeseburger – our bodies respond by breaking down the food down into glucose, and then the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Insulin helps cells absorb the glucose. Or, if there is too much glucose, insulin stores the leftovers as fat, for use sometime in the future. The more carbohydrates we eat in a sitting, the more insulin that is released to digest them.
What most people don’t know is that every time your body experiences an excess insulin response, it also has an inflammatory response. So the more often your body releases insulin – and the more of it that is released each time – the more likely you are to develop insulin-related health problems.
To guard against insulin’s potential negative effects, limit your portion size of traditional pasta to no more than about a cup of cooked pasta at a time. Don’t get reeled in by big bowls and plates full of pasta. Those are trouble with a capital T!
What you eat pasta with is just as important as how much of it you eat. Here’s how to go about it:
Always mix pasta with healthy fats, fiber, and protein. This is a rule that I apply to all carbs, but it’s especially helpful with pasta. Fats, fiber, and protein all take longer to digest than pasta, which means they help slow your body’s insulin response. This minimizes the overall effect that pasta has on your metabolism and your inflammatory levels.
Also, eating a small side of pasta along with fresh seafood or organic chicken or beef, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats like olive oil reinforces the point that pasta is just one small part of the whole PAMM diet. When eaten in healthy proportion to other foods, you can enjoy it and relax knowing that its negative effects will be minimal.
Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t want to add chicken, beef, cheese, etc. to your pasta – and there are a lot of people who feel this way, especially children and vegetarians or vegans – you do have another option…You can have just a bowl of pasta with sauce, oil, or organic butter if the pasta you’re eating is high-protein; for me high protein means at least 15 grams per serving.
I’m a big fan of organic, gluten-free red lentil pasta, because it is high protein and also has 4 grams of fiber per serving as well – I feel it’s the healthiest pasta out there. I love it topped with a healthy pasta sauce like organic marinara and a generous drizzle of cold-pressed olive oil (either classic EVOO or a rosemary, basil, or garlic flavored olive oil), and with a side of steamed green veggies with olive oil and a savory spice blend.
If you like, add a healthy pasta sauce. This is a great way to spice up the flavor of pasta while also adding more nutrients to your plate.
Red sauce is a traditional favorite, and when it’s made with fresh, whole, high-vibrational ingredients, it brings a lot to the table nutritionally. Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural antioxidant that can help protect the body against free radical stress. My Vervana Organic Marinara Sauce recipe, which was handed down from my Sicilian grandfather, made with vibrant red tomatoes and infused with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions, and even carrots, too, for rich flavor and extra nutritional support. With no added sugar, it helps support healthy blood sugar levels.
Pesto is another go-to healthy pasta sauce. Made mostly with the herbs basil and parsley, garlic, and olive oil, it packs a potent antioxidant punch. It’s also a great way to incorporate more heart-healthy olive oil into your meal.
In addition to learning from what Italians eat, we can also can take a cue from the way they eat. Meals in the Mediterranean follow a much more relaxed pace and are a valued time to share with friends and family. They’re not fit in between errands and appointments, or eaten alone in front of the TV. Instead, they’re an opportunity to share a glass of wine, connect, and build the kind of vital relationships that are known to support longevity.
So slow down, put away your smartphone, and enjoy your food with people who matter to you. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you for it!
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- Hunter, Philip. “The Inflammation Theory of Disease: The Growing Realization That Chronic Inflammation Is Crucial in Many Diseases Opens New Avenues for Treatment.” EMBO Reports 13.11 (2012): 968–970. PMC. Web. 25 July 2018.
- Petyaev, Ivan M. “Lycopene Deficiency in Ageing and Cardiovascular Disease.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2016 (2016): 3218605. PMC. Web. 25 July 2018.
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