Pasta is often the quick go-to for weeknight meals; it’s fast, easy, and always a crowd-pleaser. However, it’s gotten a bit of a bad rep lately as being not a “health food” due to the fact that it’s high-carb, not gluten-free, and store-bought sauces tend to be loaded with things like sodium, sugar and preservatives. However – pasta doesn’t have to be bad for you! That’s right; the comforting, delicious Italian inspired dish can actually be made into healthy meals for dinner! Just for National Heart Awareness month, here is some heart-healthy advice on how to bring those quick and easy pasta dinners back into your weeknights.
Veggies are an amazing way to add healthy volume to your dish. Just a few great additions can boost the nutritional value of any pasta dish. Adding vegetables isn’t just a way to make a pasta dish heartier (buh dum tiss) but veggies like garlic, bell peppers and onions can impart a lot of delicious flavors.
Red Bell Peppers: Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C as well as a decent source of fiber.
Asparagus: This vegetable is packed with B6, a vitamin that can lower homocysteine which is a form of amino acid that’s been linked to heart disease.
Garlic: Not only a perfect seasoning for pasta dishes but garlic can also actually boost immunity and help protect the heart against disease.
Onions: Onions are in so many dishes and for good reason. Other than the obvious flavor aspect, onions lower cholesterol levels ultimately preventing… you guessed it, heart disease.
Everyone loves a dense, perfectly al dente, flour-based pasta noodle. Try swapping for whole-wheat or lentil-based pasta instead, it’s just as delicious and keeps you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Whole grain pasta isn’t the only option though. You can swap for other things like spiraled zucchini or sweet potato gnocchi.
Whole Grain Pasta: Whole grains digest slower and help maintain an even level of blood sugar. For a gluten-free option, look for pasta made from lentils or legumes.
Zucchini Noodles: Zucchini along with carrots and parsnips can make healthy noodle replacements that add a satisfying crunch to any pasta dish.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi: This is a more labor-intensive option but you can get lucky and find it ready-made at some grocery stores. Sweet potatoes are a very high fiber healthy option and the texture of gnocchi is incredible in a creamy pasta. Because gnocchi is potato-based, it transitions beautifully into a gluten-free option.
Types of protein in pasta can be sneaky when it comes to heart health. A typical animal protein is not necessary, in fact, there are plenty of vegetarian options that can satisfy your protein needs and are delicious.
If you do choose meat, opt for lean meats like chicken and turkey. Meatballs can be just as delicious made with lean chicken or turkey instead of beef. For the vegetarian, options like legumes are a great source of protein.
Tomato sauce should be healthy right? Think again; if you have bought a sauce from the shelf, look at the label to make sure it’s not packed with sugar and sodium. Making a sauce from scratch is often healthier because you know exactly what goes into it. It’s not as hard as you might think – simply start with a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, crush with your hands, and warm on the stove with the seasonings and veggies of your choice. Alternatively, pesto is a fantastic healthy pasta sauce that pairs well with whole-grain pasta or zucchini noodles.
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