Today's healthy pasta meals have roots that stretch back to ancient times. Thousands of years ago, people ground wheat, mixed it with water to make a wheat paste, dried it, and then boiled it to go with meals. Today's consumers welcome pasta to their tables for its versatility and convenience, just as nutrition scientists recognize pasta meals for their place in healthy eating patterns, such as the "gold standard" Mediterranean Diet and the traditional Latin American diet.
In the early 2000s, during the no-carb, low-carb diet craze that swept through this country, pasta was added to a laundry list of other foods to avoid. It was suggested that carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, rice, and even fruit should be eliminated in order to lose or maintain weight. Like other fad diets that preach an all-or-nothing tactic with specific foods, "no-carb" didn't work. Read on to learn why pasta has a very healthy, very delicious, and very easy place in a healthy diet.
What Makes a Healthy Pasta Meal?
A healthy pasta meal is truly the sum of its parts, and features two key factors: what you pair with your pasta, and how much pasta you eat in a meal. Pasta is an ideal partner for healthy foods and ingredients such as vegetables, beans, and herbs (whole or in sauce form) and extra virgin olive oil. Nuts, fish, and small amounts of meat or cheese can also be added for extra flavor and protein. Pasta's versatility allows for almost endless preparations. Healthy pasta meals are a balance of pleasure and health!
Here are some our favorite healthy combos
- Angel hair with shrimp and tomato marinara or lemon pepper sauce
- Penne with arugula and walnut pesto, peas, and grilled chicken
- Orecchiete with broccoli rabe and chicken sausage
- Greek-style lasagna with zucchini, kalamata olives, tomatoes, oregano, and feta
- Pasta e fagioli, a classic Italian soup with pasta, white beans, and plenty of veggies
- Sopa de Fideos, a classic Mexican noodle soup
Once you've picked tasty and healthy additions to your pasta of choice, pay attention to how much you're putting on your plate. According to most dietitians, a healthy serving of pasta for an adult is one-half to two-thirds cup of cooked pasta, which is much less than most people are used to seeing on their plates and in restaurants! Fill out your plate with extra vegetables and lean sources of protein such as fish or beans. To learn more about healthy pasta meals for you and your family, check out these resources:
World Pasta Day
At the World Congress on Pasta, held in Rome on the 25th day of October in 1995, pasta makers from around the world enthusiastically agreed that pasta—a healthy, delicious, popular, familiar and convenient food—deserved annual worldwide recognition.
Every year since, in countries around the globe, World Pasta Day has been celebrated on October 25th. This celebration of World Pasta Day draws increasing attention to the merits and benefits of pasta—its great taste, its healthfulness and its simple convenience—for people everywhere.
Join families, chefs and restaurants around the world every year on October 25th and celebrate World Pasta Day by trying a new recipe or two, or an old family-favorite, with your friends and family. And don’t forget that the magical merits of pasta—taste, health and convenience—are worthy of celebration all year long!
For more information on World Pasta Day, on pasta and pasta meals, visit the International Pasta Organization.
Pasta for All
Working with the International Pasta Organization and its Scientific Advisory Board, Oldways created Pasta For All, a guide illustrating why pasta is the perfect food for families: it's delicious, is healthy, and is easy to make. The guide also explains, in everyday language, how nutrition science supports pasta's health benefits. The first edition of Pasta for All was developed in 2007, and was updated and reintroduced in Rome at World Pasta Day on October 25, 2011.
The newest Pasta for All brochure will be translated in 2012 into French and Portuguese. To view or download the newest edition:
in English: click here
in Brazilian Portuguese: click here
in Spanish: click here
On October 25th, 2008, at World Pasta Day in Istanbul, Turkey, Oldways and the International Pasta Organization released Pasta for Children Around the World, a nutrition and cooking curriculum designed to awaken children's excitement and interest in food, pasta, and cooking pasta dishes from around the world. Its four lessons teach children about healthy eating and simple cooking, including healthy pasta meals from countries around the world. The lessons are organized by region and country, and can be completed one at a time, or several countries at a time. Anyone—parents, teachers, community leaders, health professionals, food retailers or others interested in children, food, cooking and health—can teach Pasta for Children Around the World.
Healthy Pasta Meal Symposium
Pasta encourages increased vegetable consumption, and is an affordable, delicious part of a healthy Mediterranean Diet. That's the message Oldways delivered in October 2011 in Madrid, Spain, at the Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) conference, an event attended by 2000 doctors, dietitians and researchers from around the world. Oldways President Sara Baer-Sinnott (right) moderated a panel titled "The Scientific Consensus about the Healthy Pasta Meal," kicking off the topic by explaining Oldways' work over the past decade in furthering understanding of carbohydrate digestion and the pleasures of the table. Panelists included:
Jaime Rozowski, PhD, Professor of Nutrition at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, speaking on "The Importance of Total Diet and Pasta's Role in a Healthy Total Diet – the Mediterranean Diet." Dr. Rozowski spoke of his work in improving workers' health through workplace cafeteria interventions including whole grain pasta. *
Marta Garaulet Aza, PhD, Dr.PH, Professor of Physiology and Nutrition, University of Murcia (Spain), speaking on "Weight Loss and Maintenance – It's Calories, Not Pasta or Carbs." Dr. Garaulet, who recently received Europe's top award for her weight management programs, recounted the role that the Med Diet, including pasta, plays in changing lifelong eating habits for the healthier.
Nuno Borges, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Nutrition, University of Porto and University of Minho (Portugal), speaking on "Increased Vegetable Consumption, Affordability, and Cultural Traditions: More Positive Public Health Benefits for Pasta." Dr. Borges shared recent research on the associations between pasta consumption and other healthy outcomes.
The panelists pointed out that while pasta is sometimes seen as solely "Italian" and its nutritional benefits have been questioned by low-carb advocates, in fact pasta is a powerhouse in its worldwide contributions to nutrition. It's a part of cultural traditions worldwide, going way beyond Italian spaghetti to Japanese soba, Pad Thai, Mexican fideo soups, and other favorite dishes from every continent. With a much lower glycemic index than other grain-based foods, pasta starts off healthy, then becomes even more so as the addition of vegetables, legumes, healthy oils, fish and other foods transform into a complete and balanced healthy pasta meal. Plus, in trying economic times like these, pasta's affordability makes it a regular feature at tables everywhere. Oldways Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies Cynthia Harriman wrapped up the panel with a lively Roundtable Discussion, complete with questions from the audience.
The FENS conference was a great venue at which to share this message – and the Scientific Consensus Statement on Healthy Pasta Meals that Oldways created with 17 scientists from 13 countries at a conference last year in Brazil. The Madrid presentations from our panelists can be downloaded below:
Sara Baer-Sinnott The Scientific Consensus about the Healthy Pasta Meal
Marta Garaulet Aza Weight Loss and Maintenance – It's Calories, Not Pasta or Carbs