3 Easy Ways to Make Pasta Healthier

Beef & Broccoli Pasta Bake

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I[/dropcap] wish I could say I was an adventurous eater as a child.

The truth is I loved my pasta just like the next kid. So it’s hardly surprising that my favourite comfort food meals as an adult are good old ‘spag bol’ and my mum’s tuna pasta bake.

And also not so surprising that when I was testing my blood sugar during my gestational diabetes that the two highest readings were for spag bol and tuna ‘dish’.

But here’s the thing…

I should have known better.

I could have avoided these ‘off-the-scale-high’ readings AND still indulged in a little late pregnancy comfort eating.

So today I thought I’d share my favourite easy ways to make pasta a little healthier so I remember the lesson myself!

3 Easy Ways to Make Pasta Healthier

1. Cool and reheat.
You know how ‘wonder white’ bread looks and tastes pretty much like white bread but has more fiber? Well that’s due to something called ‘resistant starch’. It’s a form of starch that tastes delicious but that our bodies can’t digest so it passes through like other fiber.

And the best part is to generate this ‘resistant starch’ it’s super easy. All you need to do is cook your pasta and allow it to cool. And hey presto some of the starch will change into the ‘resistant’ form. Then when you reheat the food it stays resistant. So there’s no need to eat cold pasta to enjoy the extra fiber.

2. Add some veg.
Mixing in some veg like the broccoli in the pasta bake below essentially just ‘dilutes’ the pasta so you’re eating a smaller serve. Of course clever toddlers (and adults) can easily bypass this ‘trick’ by choosing to eat around said veg.

3. Add fiber to the sauce.
A tip I picked up from a Stonesoup reader a while ago. By adding a few tablespoons of fibre like oat bran, psyllium or chia seeds (ground are best) to your pasta sauce, you up the fiber in the whole dish and this slows down how quickly your body digests the pasta and therefore reduces blood sugar spikes.

I’d love to hear from you…

What are your favourite comfort foods? Share in the comments below.

Beef & Broccoli Pasta Bake-2

Pasta Al Forno

‘Al forno’ sounds really cosy doesn’t it? My Italian is pretty much non existent apart from food and cooking terms so I might be wrong but I translate ‘al forno’ as ‘in the oven’ or baked. Apart from the deliciousness / comfort factor it’s hard not to love a good pasta bake for their convenient ‘do ahead’ nature.

This one was inspired by David Tanis from his book ‘A Platter of Figs’.

enough for 4
takes: about 40 minutes + cooling time

300g (10oz) short pasta
2 heads broccoli, chopped
450g (1lb) minced (ground) beef or chicken
4 tablespoons double or heavy cream
2 handfuls melting cheese, grated

1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Simmer pasta as long as the packet recommends. Set the timer so you can add the broccoli for last 2 minutes.

2. Drain pasta and broccoli.

3. While the pasta is cooking, heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook meat, stirring until browned. Season with salt.

4. Combine cooked meat, drained pasta and broccoli and cream in the pasta pot. Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Refrigerate until you’re ready to cook (up to a week or so).

5. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Scatter cheese over the pasta and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and everything is hot.

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low carb – replace pasta with an extra head of broccoli. Simmer 2 minutes drain and use as per recipe.

paleo – replace pasta with extra broccoli. Use a tomato based sauce instead of the cream (add a can of tomatoes to the beef and simmer to reduce down a bit). And use almond meal or grated brazil nuts insteead of the cheese. Give everything a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to keep it nice and moist.

gluten-free – use GF pasta, I like ones using quinoa flour OR see the low carb + paleo options.

vegetarian – replace beef with extra cheese and cream OR use cooked green lentils for more protein and fiber.

different veg – try cauliflower, asparagus or broccolini as well as or instead of the broccoli. Frozen peas will also work (no need to simmer first).

Video Version of the Recipe.

Big love,
Jules x

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  • Mac n cheese, mashed potato, Mexican food, anything peanut butter and actually your ketchup baked beans are a super fav comfort food. I use your template recipe for hummus made with natural peanut butter without sugar and season with a salt free seasoning mix and green onions I usually use it on toast. Yum!

    Love your site and your simple approach to food and life. Congrats on the new little one.

  • French fries, ice cream, and hot cereal such as oatmeal or oat bran are definite comfort foods for me. Pasta used to be a big one as well; however, we cut gluten several months ago. I’ve tried several GF pasta options, but they just aren’t the same. I made this dish last night and even though the pasta was GF, I still felt bloaty. Never thought I’d get to the point where old favorites just didn’t feel as good anymore. I’ve read other’s descriptions of this, but always thought, never me. After last night’s dinner I found myself thinking, this would be really good if I subbed some brown rice and cauli rice for the pasta. Thanks so much for helping us become better cooks and making it easier to make better choices!

  • My favourite comfort food when I’m ill is rice congee with fish & ginger. That tip about adding fibre to the pasta is fab!! Nor sure where to get any of those ingredients though. Psilium husk in the UK tends to come orange or lime flavoured and sweet (yuck!), but I can probably get whole chia seeds and ground them up myself in my spice grinder.

  • Cant wait to try these recpies. I am obsessed with pasta and it def was my comfort food as a kid. Obsessed with Mexican food, frozen yogurt, and french fries with chipotle ketchup. Mmm! Ran into your blog today and it’s awesome, keep up the great work. I also have a blog and would love to get your feedback :) xoxo

  • I was so happy to even read the title because ever since I have embraced healthy eating I have had to forego pastas and sadly I love pastas. Thanks for the great advice.

  • I just came apon this article from a Google search. I knew you would have some great ideas to keep pasta healthy. Since you mentioned the tuna, I’ll share our most recent favorite tuna casserole recipe. Our babysitter even said it was better than her mom’s traditional recipe! https://www.cottercrunch.com/paleo-tuna-green-chile-zoodle-casserole/
    My changes are that I bake spaghetti squash and sub it in for the zucchini, no chile’s (because kiddos), and lots of garlic and onion powder. Very warming!

  • I read elsewhere about the cooling of pasta, though they said if you reheat it then it is the same thing as never cooling it. Thank you for explaining the reason why cooling it makes it better for you… AND that I can reheat… plus other ideas. Thanks for all the time you take to help us live healthier!!

    • You’re welcome Dot!

      The formation of the resistant startch is a non-reversible process so reheating doesn’t undo the good work :)

  • Fat and protein also slows down the spiking of blood sugar. I love spaghetti and lasagna but not the alternatives. Just try to not eat very often and enjoy it when I do. For me, plain old bake potato with a meaty sauce with lots of veggies included (zucchini, mushrooms, onions, spinach) is great and do to the fat content (I use thin sliced sweet italian sausage and chicken, high quality olive oil). You’d be surprised how far one chicken breast (shredded) and a couple Italian sausage links (sliced thin) or even 8 Oz organic ground beef stretches over 4-6 servings. The meat adds fat, richness and flavor not to mention protein and helps with offsetting the sugar content of pasta or potato. The potato provides a lot of fiber and because there are so many veggies in the sauce — and really not that much meat truly —-according to my dexcom, my sugar levels don’t spike. And if I’m feeling really decadent, I put the “loaded” tater in the oven with a sprinkle of cheese to brown and bubble. Yes it’s more fat and calories but from a sugar standpoint, it works. Other times I use roasted veggies instead of the tater. Vegetables like zucchini, fennel, eggplant, cauliflower — roasting makes the big difference in richness and flavor in terms of a comfort food. I have gotten where I throw in baby spinach to all tomato sauces, chili, soups, and beans. The baby spinach is mild and if you grow it yourself and harvest in the fall after frost, it’s sweeter. The same with collards and other greens, even sweet potatoes. The fall frost sweetens the flavor. I can’t vouch for grocery store because I don’t know where it’s grown or when harvested — but if you grow it yourself and harvest in the fall after a couple of life frosts, you will note the difference. It’s like carrots, early spring peas and carrots are more tender and sweeter in the cool weather than when harvested in the summer. I don’t even grow these types of things in warm or hot weather.

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