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healthier Pasta

If you’ve ever felt like crawling into bed after a big pasta dinner, you’ll appreciate this makeover. Holistic dietitian Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain, raves about all the ways to reenergize this classic dish, including using veggie-based noodles, well-chosen sauces, and clean protein. “Adding more fresh, whole foods with different tastes and textures will leave you feeling more satisfied and balanced, and less lethargic.”


pasta beforeFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Lara Miklasevics
  • White pasta. Fast digesting, processed white-flour pasta is light on nutrients and can leave you feeling heavy and dull.
  • Sugary, salty red sauce. Added sugar and salt trigger the pleasure centers in our brains, making us crave more than our bodies can handle.
  • Low-quality ground beef. Cattle raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) face crowded, unsanitary conditions, which translate to health concerns for you, including antibiotic resistance and foodborne illness.
  • Powdered Parmesan. As with bagged shredded cheese, powdered Parmesan will likely add a surprising dose of cellulose — used as a filler and anticaking agent — to your noodles.
  • Missing veggies. Unless you make a salad or a vegetable side dish, pasta dinners tend to be thin on the fresh produce.

After: Noodle Swaps

pasta afterFood photography by Terry Brennan; Food styling by Lara Miklasevics
  • Amp up your veggie consumption with spiralizer “noodles” made from sweet potatoes, zucchini, or parsnips. You’ll boost the nutrition profile and cut back on refined carbs. (For a recipe, see “Zucchini Noodles With Avocado Sauce“.)
  • Try spaghetti squash in place of pasta noodles. The cooked flesh pulls apart into noodle-like strands that are rich in immune-system-friendly vitamin C.
  • Swap in soba, nutty-tasting and quick-cooking Japanese-style noodles made with 100 percent buckwheat. Other gluten-free pastas are made from brown rice, millet, -quinoa, and even legumes.

Singular Sauces

  • Make your own red sauce by blending canned San Marzano tomatoes with oregano and metabolism-boosting paprika. Add a dash of acid like red-wine vinegar and a touch of olive oil to improve your absorption of tomatoes’ lycopene.
  • Aim for minimal ingredients in store-bought sauces, advises Babb. The ingredients list should include little more than tomatoes, aromatics like phytonutrient-heavy onion and garlic, and spices. Pass on the sugar.
  • Go green with pesto — it’s a great way to get more antioxidant-rich basil and anti-inflammatory olive oil into your meal.

Power Protein

  • Choose grassfed ground beef or bison, which are nutritionally superior to industrial beef. Or try pasture-raised ground turkey or chicken; dark meat has extra flavor and nutrients like taurine, which may have cardiovascular benefits.
  • Try smoked mackerel, canned sardines, or cooked mussels for a shot of heart-friendly omega-3 fats.
  • Go vegetarian by making a batch of “meatballs” with walnuts or beans.
  • Select freshly grated high-quality Parmesan or pecorino cheese, which provides umami flavor without the unwanted additives in the powdered form.

Veggie Vibe

  • Incorporate sautéed veggies into your sauce — eggplant (for minerals like copper and potassium), broccoli (for folate and calcium), fennel (for vitamin C), mushrooms (a good source of B vitamins), asparagus (especially high in vitamin K), or carrots (for beta-carotene).
  • Toss in a few handfuls of arugula or baby greens like kale just before serving for a fresh and healthy dose of antioxidants.

This originally appeared as “Dinner, Remixed” in the May 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Terry Brennan; Food styling by: Lara Miklasevics

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