Who doesn't love pasta? The soft noodles that are in many different forms, shapes, and sizes that go with endless types of veggies, sauces, and herbs have been around for centuries. Since October is National Pasta Month, I wanted to do some research and find out more about pastas. This blog is my personal research of a little history of pasta, what makes pasta healthy, not healthy, the differences in enriched vs wheat vs plant based, how to store, and how to make homemade pasta.
Let's start with a little bit of history. Although popular legend claims Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his exploration of the Far East in the late 13th century, pasta can be traced back as far as the 4th century B.C., where an Etruscan tomb showed a group of natives making what appears to be pasta. The Chinese were making a noodle-like food as early as 3000 B.C. That is a long time of pasta making! Check out more history here and an American History of Pasta Timeline here
What is pasta? Pasta is a type of noodle that’s traditionally made from durum wheat, water or eggs. It is formed into different noodle shapes and then cooked in boiling water. There is enriched, whole whole, buckwheat, rice pastas, veggie pastas, and so much more. Between what pasta is made from and the different shapes/sizes, there is an estimated 350 different types of known pastas! Here is a list of the common pasta shapes.
The big question: is pasta healthy or not? This is a tricky question since it all depends on the individual needs and which kind of pasta/grain you are eating. How much pasta you eat for a meal is also equally important. Here's some more information for you to determine if pastas should be part of your diet or not.
Grains and whole grains are the seeds of grasses cultivated for food. They come in many shapes and sizes, from large kernels of popcorn to small quinoa seeds.
- Whole grains. These unrefined grains haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling; therefore, all of the nutrients remain intact. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole wheat in bread. Look for the "whole grain" stamp on the box and the word "whole" on the ingredients list to make sure. Here is a list of some whole grain foods.
- Refined grains. In contrast to whole grains, refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and longer shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. Refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and degermed cornflower. Many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains, too. These processed foods will not keep your blood sugar levels steady, which is why you will be hungry again soon after consumption.
- Enriched grains. Enriched means that some or many of the nutrients that are lost during processing are added back in later. Most refined grains are enriched, and many enriched grains are also fortified — meaning nutrients that don’t occur naturally in the food are added — with other vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron. Enriched grains lack fiber and are not an optimal choice because while they have traces of nutrition, many important vitamins and nutrients are lost during processing (information from this article).
It's also not just the type of pasta you are eating (although that's important), but also what all you have with your pasta. The sauces, breads, etc can contribute to the unhealthy reputation that pasta has but eating whole grain pastas can be beneficial to your your like these articles state (Habitual Whole Grain Consumption Benefits Health) and (Is Pasta Bad For You?)
So in summary, eating whole grain/wheat pastas (or veggie pastas that haven't been processed/enriched) is part of a healthy diet. Most important things to remember when it comes to pastas: read the ingredients list to see what it's made of (look for the word "whole"), eat pastas in moderation (about a cup), and consider what what you eat pastas with (add some protein and veggies with it).
How to make your own pasta? Making homemade pasta is easier than you think so have fun experimenting with this! Here are a couple different recipes to start out with. 1. Whole wheat 2. Chickpea Pasta 3. Lentil Pasta 4. Other Pastas (basic, spinach, beet, squid ink, saffron). If you don't want to make, or have the time to make, homemade pastas, check out some healthy pastas here.
Pasta Storage: Pasta is a great pantry staple since most can last in your pantry for a few years. Fresh, homemade pasta that you make doesn't generally last as long as store bought but you can freeze it or dry it to increase it's shelf life longevity. Check out this article for more detailed information about storage options for homemade pastas.
Overall, pasta is essential to have in your pantry since it can be stored for a while and has some essential nutrients. Humans have been making and eating pastas for centuries and there are so many varieties out there that you won't get tired of it. Most importantly if you aren't making your own pasta, read the ingredients to make sure you are eating healthier pastas.
Let me know what you think about this blog: was it informational, helpful, etc? And if you have some more information/research that you did on your own please feel free to share! Thanks!