Don't Mess with an Italian's Pasta

Dear Lovelies,

I came to learn rather quickly upon meeting my husband, a native of Italy, pasta is like a religion and held sacred by Italians. You don’t ever mess with their pasta. I was naïve to the many rules of pasta until Emanuele came into my life. There are many, but as a dietitian, those related to health and nutrition intrigued me the most.

The Rule of Al Dente

First, there is the rule of al dente. Being of Greek descent, we usually eat pasta once a week as opposed to the daily ritual of our Mediterranean neighbors. Truth be told we tend to overcook pasta or make it “mushy” as my husband called while insisting al dente is the healthiest way to eat pasta. It turns out he was right! Al dente pasta takes longer to digest releasing less sugar into the bloodstream and increases satiety. This slower digestion means a lower spike in blood sugars and insulin levels. Overcooking the pasta increases how fast glucose (sugar) is absorbed into the bloodstream making weight and blood sugar control a challenge.

What is al dente?

I can describe it as tender, slightly chewy, and so very pleasantly filling and satisfying without making you overeat or feeling stuffed. Don’t look at the package for cook time, instead test it and then test it again…for if you leave it a few seconds too many you get the dreaded “mushy” effect.  One more tip, make sure you use plenty of salted water and let it be at a vigorous rolling boil before putting in the pasta to avoid an overcooked gummy texture.

Pennette pasta with turkey ragu

Pennette pasta with turkey ragu

Pasta doesn’t make us fat

Italians eat pasta every day, yet have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world. In an Italian study, published in Nutrition and Diabetes in 2016, researchers concluded that pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip-ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity. Bottom line: Pasta doesn’t make you fat. What’s the catch? You need to eat pasta like the Italians: portion minded and not drowning in sauces and meat. The sauce lightly coats the pasta, that’s it. Anything accompanying a pasta dish is merely a simple and light enhancement, keeping the focus on the pasta always. In other words avoid complicated heavy sauces and heaping plates of immense portions.

Mediterranean Lifestyle

A Mediterranean diet is primarily a plant-based dietary pattern characterized by an abundance of extra-virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and legumes, cereals/whole grains; a low consumption of meats; and a moderate level of fish, dairy products (usually in the form of yogurt and cheese), and wine. In the same study, it was also stated that higher pasta intake was associated with better adhesion to the Mediterranean diet in men and women and is a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. Therefore eating pasta made it easier to eat this traditional way that emphasizes fresh real whole foods. This is due to the incorporation of tomatoes, olive oil, plentiful vegetables, and herbs when preparing pasta meals. This is great news considering all the health benefits of following the Mediterranean Diet: reduced frailty in aging, longevity, a reduction in chronic disease including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, and cognitive impairment. Apart from the body is the emotional benefit of a Mediterranean lifestyle through social engagement. This way of life calls us to slow down allowing us to dissipate stress, give ourselves time to nurture strong relationships  and concentrate on the special moments of our day such as cooking and sharing meals with friends and family.

Spaghetti with broccoli and extra-virgin olive oil 

Spaghetti with broccoli and extra-virgin olive oil 

Sensible Balance and Variety

Thanks to my home chef, I’ve learned to eat pasta like an Italian as a regular part of my diet, in the right amount, and always al dente. Just one more example that when it comes to healthy living and good nutrition, quality and quantity count.