Being a vegetarian, my go-to pasta recipe mostly consists of just a few ingredients – spaghetti, tomato sauce, cheese and some dried herbs. – That’s it…A simple, delicious recipe!! Sometimes, I sneak in a few veggies, sometimes a splash of heavy cream at the end.
But what nutrition are you getting from eating pasta? What nutrients are the wheat, the tomatoes, etc providing for your body? Are you curious to find out?? Read on…
My family’s reaction to pasta
When I make pasta at my home, here’s the reaction from my family –
“You are making Pasta – Yay!!” (My kid)
“You are making Pasta – Nooo!!” (My husband)
My husband is not a fan of this dish. In his mind pasta = flour!! He always groans when he sees that dish. OTOH, My daughter treats me with hugs when she sees it. So, what is a mom to do?
Convincing a little kid to give up pasta is a bit much….So, I got ready to present a nutritional case for making pasta to my husband, naturally :).
Let us look at the components individually –
First up – Spaghetti
Turn the packet around – study the nutrition panel. Let us look at the numbers. Ok, what did you check first? Usually, people look up calories ….and that’s ok. But, it is important to remember that calorie is – just 1 number in the nutritional panel.
To function well, your body needs a lot more than just calories. Hence, the more important argument is -what are you getting in return for all the calories?
1 serving of spaghetti has 200 calories (fine). But, in return, you get:
- Protein – 7g (not bad for vegetarians)
- Iron – 10% Daily Value aka DV (pretty good for vegetarians)
- Vit B (Check Niacin, Folate, Thiamin etc) – 15% DV and above (Very good values)
- Dietary Fiber – 2g (Not so good)
I know, I know….If I had chosen whole wheat pasta instead of refined, I would have better fiber values. But, hey moms – you can attest that whole wheat pasta don’t get quite the love as the white version. Right??
So, instead of buying whole wheat and dealing with cranky kids, I decided to serve a side salad of spinach to bump up the fiber levels for the meal. The raw spinach salad also lowers the glycemic index, increases satiety and reduces the portion size of pasta you will need to feel full. Win-win-Win!!
Next up- Tomato Sauce
Click here to get the full nutritional info on tomato. Here’s the relevant summary anyway:
1 small tomato has:
- Calories – 16 (Low, but that was expected…)
- Vit C – 21% DV (Awesome!!)
- Rest of the nutritional panel – All minimal, meh quantities…Nothing to crow about…
But, here’s the kicker. Something that is not listed in the nutritional panel is the lycopene content. Lycopene has been shown to reduce prostate cancer, increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). Pretty impressive, huh!!
But, is there really enough lycopene in tomatoes? – A resounding YES! Apparently, you should ideally eat 22 mg of lycopene a day; but there are 27 mgs in two tablespoons of tomato purée. Wowza!! You are covered with your lycopene for the day and then some – with a bowl of pasta.
Did you know?? – On a gram-for-gram basis, cherry tomatoes contain more lycopene than large tomatoes. [Note to self – pick up cherry tomatoes next time at the grocery store].
I used cheddar cheese that I bought in bulk earlier. Here are its nutrition highlights:
1oz of cheese has:
- Calories – 120 (High, but expected)
- Protein – 7g (Wow!!)
- Carbohydrate – 1g (Low – but don’t get over-excited, our spaghetti makes up more than enough for the carbs)
- Total Fat – 10g (High – Maybe cut down for adults?)
So, the high protein content, and the ‘Ooey-Gooey iness’ of the cheese makes it a great fit for the kids.
But as an adult, if you are worried about your fat/cholesterol intake, maybe you can set aside the finished dish for yourself before you add the cheese.
Finally – Herbs
Ok, so I add a ton of dried herbs to my pasta. It is green – a desired food category for the nutrition nerds. My gut instinct also felt that they are good for you. They smell great, and blend seamlessly into the sauce – so why not??
But, when I looked for the nutrition panel – many boxes had none. The one that had a panel had zeros in all the columns. “Hmmm..,I must be missing something”, I thought.
But here’s what the nutrition panel was missing – An article in Washington Post praises herbs thus – “The true power of herbs lies in their wealth of protective polyphenols — plant compounds with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show that polyphenols in herbs help combat such diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more”.
My favorite author Michael Greger also reports: “In a comparison of the Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods (ORAC), ounce for ounce dried herbs and spices average the greatest antioxidant punch of all! Some herbs and spices are so off-the-charts amazing that just a small pinch can go a long way.” Now, that’s awesome!!
There is nutrition in each component of pasta. I don’t think any ingredient trumps the other. They all provide different nutritional awesome-ness!!
Back to convincing my husband. So, here’s my final argument for cooking pasta in the house:
- High Protein, Vit B, Iron from the Noodles/ Spaghetti itself
- High Lycopene from tomatoes that helps men (ahem!!) in lowering their risk of prostrate cancer and help everyone manage HDL/LDL levels
- Extra Protein from the cheese (optional)
- High antioxidant values + polyphenols from herbs
I think that makes for a good argument, don’t you think? What nutrition comments/ questions do you have regarding pasta? Do you have these kitchen battles at your home too? Post them down below!!
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