Busting the biggest myth about pasta

I think most people are afraid of pasta, especially in January when some of us swear off tempting, indulgent foods in favor of lettuce and carrots. Pasta tastes so good—but it’s soooo bad for you. Or is it? Would you believe me if I said that pasta can actually be a healthy choice for dinner—even when you’re watching your weight? Because it’s true. The trick is to keep the portion size of your pasta under control and add lean protein and vegetables to the mix so you feel satisfied.

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The other secret to keeping pasta healthy? Skip the “regular” white pasta, which is made from refined grains. Instead opt for whole-wheat pasta.

Don’t groan. On average, whole-wheat pasta offers two to three times more fiber per serving than regular white pasta (the amazing benefit is that eating more fiber can actually help you lose weight)—and it’s available in countless shapes and sizes. “And no, it doesn’t taste like cardboard,” says EatingWell Assistant Food Editor Hilary Meyer. “Many brands have a soft nutty flavor.” (See her tips for picking the best whole-wheat pasta below.)

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This recipe for Spaghetti with Quick Meat Sauce has everything that we could want in a healthy dinner. Check out these benefits: it’s low-calorie, so you can enjoy it even if you’re watching your weight. It costs less than $1.50 per serving to make. It’s a quick 30-minute meal you can whip up any night of the week. But the best part is that it’s PASTA—and it’s GOOD FOR YOU. For real, eat some pasta tonight.

Spaghetti with Quick Meat Sauce
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes | To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Cost per serving: under $1.50

Instead of opening a jar of sauce, try this easy spaghetti with meat sauce on a weeknight. Serve with steamed broccoli and garlic bread. The recipe makes enough for 8 servings. If you’re serving only four for dinner, cook 8 ounces of spaghetti and freeze the leftover sauce.

1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 pound lean (90% or leaner) ground beef
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is beginning to brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
3. Stir in garlic and Italian seasoning; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add beef and cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase heat to high. Stir in tomatoes and cook until thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in parsley and salt.
4. Serve the sauce over the pasta, sprinkled with cheese.

Makes: 8 servings, 1 cup pasta & generous 3/4 cup sauce each

Per serving: 384 calories; 9 g fat (3 g sat, 3 g mono); 48 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 28 g protein; 10 g fiber; 416 mg sodium; 655 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (49% daily value), Zinc (34% dv), Iron (26% dv), Vitamin C (23% dv), Magnesium (21% dv), Potassium (19% dv).

How to Pick the Best Whole-Wheat Pasta

Why You Should Go Whole-Wheat
Unlike white pasta, whole-wheat pasta is made from wheat flour that hasn’t been stripped of its bran and germ—the fiber—contributing parts of the grain that also give it its darker hue. Whole-wheat pastas have the added benefit of retaining their magnesium, zinc and other nutrients. There are many brands of whole-wheat pasta; a few include additional whole grains, such as barley and rye. Experiment until you find one that has a flavor and texture you like.

100% Whole-Wheat Pasta
When it comes to 100% whole-grain pasta, we prefer brands that have a texture similar to white pasta and a mild flavor that won’t compete with the flavors in a dish. We found that pastas made with 100% whole durum wheat flour fit that description better than whole-grain pastas made with a mix of wheat and other whole-grain flours. Some of the brands we tried made from 100% whole wheat are Bionaturæ, Pastene, DaVinci and Eden Organic.

Whole-Wheat Blends
If you prefer to ease into the world of whole-wheat pasta, try a blend. Blends have a varying percentage of whole grain to refined flour. You’ll sacrifice some fiber, but you still get an average of 2 grams more per serving compared to white pasta. We like Barilla Plus, which is made with a combination of grain and legume flour and has a taste and texture similar to white pasta.

What’s your favorite whole-wheat pasta?

Penelope is a web producer and writer for EatingWell.com. When she’s not busy geeking out at the computer, she loves cooking and trying new recipes on her friends. Some of her favorite foods are dark chocolate, coffee, apples, sweet potatoes and cheese.

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