When I think about foods that deliver on comfort, tradition and enjoyment, pasta is at the top of the list. In fact, pasta is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and can be culturally diverse.
Pasta adds beneficial nutrients to the plate such as carbohydrate, fiber, protein, B vitamins and iron — in addition to being a perfect partner to protein and produce.
I like to recommend pasta as a great food for all occasions. For instance, leftover pasta can be a quick and easy breakfast when tossed with an egg or some ricotta cheese. A bean-based pasta salad with grape tomatoes, sliced strawberries, fresh mozzarella and pesto is a nutritious and delicious lunch. Stir-fried chicken, beef, fish or tofu and vegetables is a great pairing with rice noodles.
As a sports dietitian, I advise my athletes and active clients to optimize carbohydrate intake to fuel workouts and restore post exercise. Anyone who has done road races has probably had a pasta meal the night before. But why? Pasta is an easily digestible carbohydrate that can help ensure that carbohydrate stores (glycogen) is optimized in both the muscles and liver so one can compete and not feel depleted.
[READ: Best Foods for Energy.]
Pasta is also available, accessible and affordable, making it a budget-friendly food to include. A pasta meal can be one stop shopping as the pasta provides the carbohydrate; protein can be in the form of meat sauce, meat balls, tuna, shrimp, shredded chicken or beans; produce could be the marinara sauce or other sauteed vegetables or even fruit. These combinations result in nutrient amplification.
For those who prefer to be plant based, pasta is a great addition to a meal. Pasta provides protein, and some new pastas — including those that are bean-based — can provide a significant amount of protein at a meal.
Pasta and beans is a terrific combination. I puree cannellini beans, which can be added to a spaghetti sauce to increase the protein, or added to a mac n’cheese to provide creaminess as well as additional protein. A pasta salad with garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, chopped zucchini and vinaigrette is a great plant-based dish. For those who include dairy, pasta with ricotta and zucchini, or a vegetable lasagna, are delicious and nutritious options.
With so many new products on the marketplace, there are pasta options for those that need to be gluten free.
Perfect Quick Prep
Pasta is also a great choice for the time-pressed as you can make it once and eat it twice. You can prepare a box or bag of pasta and change it up with add-ins or add-ons for nutrient amplification and augmentation.
— Pasta with olive oil and garlic, canned clams and spinach.
— Pasta and zucchini noodles with grilled flank steak and spicy pasta sauce.
— Pasta with marinara sauce and shredded chicken.
— Pasta with fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes and pesto.
— Pasta with edamame, carrots, peanuts and sesame ginger dressing.
For those that are portion conscious, there’s no need to make the entire box/bag of pasta. Pour out what you want, and put the box or bag away to use another day. Pasta is a great showcase for vegetables to add the fill up, not out, and choosing a spaghetti, capellini (angel hair), fettucine or pappardelle will extend the time it takes you to eat as you perfect the art of the twirl.
Take advantage of the wealth on the supermarket shelf and add pasta to your grocery cart for enjoyment and health. Now that’s using your noodle!
More from U.S. News