Apparently, today is World Pasta Day, but I don’t need an international celebration to put pasta on my plate. Yes, I eat pasta, and not the whole grain kind. Pasta, and other refined grains, have been demonized in the last few years, often unfairly. Certain refined grains have more to offer than you may realize, and refined grains can be part of a balanced eating plan. Here’s why it’s OK to indulge your passion for pasta, and how to do it better.
Disclosure: Last month, Barilla invited me to their Good for You, Good for the Planet gathering of registered dietitian nutritionists. They paid for my travel and lodgings, but not for my time, and are not compensating me for this blog.
Why It’s OK to Eat Refined Grains
You may have heard that you should make at least half of the grains you eat whole grains. For people following a 2,000-calorie eating plan, that amounts to a minimum of three servings of whole grains daily. Whole grains contain more fiber and higher levels of some other nutrients than refined grains, and they are a wise choice. But you don’t need to make all of your grains whole.
Enriched refined grains are a good alternative to whole grains. Most refined grains sold in the U.S. are made from enriched flour, which means they have added iron and four B vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. (Whole grains and gluten-free products may not be enriched.) Folic acid is particularly important for helping to prevent birth defects that occur early in pregnancy, and iron helps to head off anemia. About half of the iron that we consume comes from enriched grains.
How to Improve your Pasta Meals
Cook pasta right: Barilla’s Chef Lorenzo Boni schooled us about how to put together a balanced pasta meal in minutes. While watching him cook and listening to him talk, I realized that, like most people, I overcook pasta. He recommends undercooking it by a minute or even more, and reserving some of the pasta cooking water to finish off your pasta dish. (See below for how to put together a pasta meal.)
Balance your plate: No single food will make you overweight, unless you eat too much of it, of course! It’s possible to overeat pasta because it’s so delicious, but I’ve also found that when a meal is too high in carbohydrate (read: pasta), it’s even more likely that you will overdo it. Adding protein-rich foods such as seafood, meat, chicken, and beans, and practicing portion control are key for better-for-you pasta dishes.
Barilla has put together a Pasta Recipe Builder to help you create balanced meals in minutes. You can build any type of meal you like from an array of ingredients, including whole grain pasta if that’s what you prefer.
Personally, I like to include at least four ounces of seafood, meat, or poultry at mealtimes, and I think the rest of my cooking buddies agreed they wanted more protein than the pasta recipe builder suggests. When we got our chance to cook in the Barilla kitchen, our group took it up a notch with lots of extra shrimp!
One of the best parts of the meeting was feasting on our own creation as well the other groups’. Ours didn’t take top honors (yes, it was a competition!), but we certainly had passion for our pasta dish!