How a Dietitian Eats Pasta

I am half Italian and have always loved a good pasta whether it be with marinara, alfredo sauce {as a child}, butter and black pepper, or a good cavatelli with broccoli and garlic. Once I got past that whole low-carb deprivation thing 11 years ago, I accepted that pasta will always be a part of my life. More than accepted, I am SO happy I allow myself to enjoy this food but, 95% of the time in very nutritionally sound, high quality ways. That’s why this blog on pasta is my first of several posts on how I choose to eat, and thoroughly enjoy, those carbohydrate rich foods.

Yes, enjoy. Without ever feeling guilty. You should never feel guilty about eating a food, even if it isn’t what you find when you search #RDapproved on instagram. Honestly, I use that hashtag even when I am treating myself cause as I mentioned in the carb post, flexibility is part of a healthful diet. One way to help yourself with this is to stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. There are healthy foods that we want to make up the majority of our diet and there are other foods that we can enjoy in moderation. By labeling them as bad, you’re setting yourself up for guilt. How many times have you said or heard someone else say “I was bad this weekend” or “I was bad last night”. Was eating a food or food product that didn’t grow straight out of the ground really a reason to call yourself bad? You may not realize it, but those words and that mentality stress you out. Guess what? Stress hurts your metabolism and leads to more stress-eating so none of that is worth it.

Now back to pasta. I can’t say that I am going to tell you in this post to bring home a bulk-sized package of white spaghetti and have it every week with sugar and sodium infused sauce for dinner. Quite honestly, that doesn’t sound very tasty to me but it also isn’t providing you with much nutritional value and, it can easily lead to over-eating. The issue with refined carbohydrates is that in the process of turning a wheat berry (see below) into that powdery white stuff, the grain is stripped of its healthy fiber and protein. Those two nutrients are important for your feeling of fullness. Raise your hand if you have ever felt like a bottomless pit eating white pasta or white bread. My hand is raised. Been there, done that. And it never made me feel good – not from a guilt perspective but more from a digestive and energy perspective. Blood sugar high and then crash. No physical or mental energy. The next day, bloating and digestive troubles (no further detail required).

So, how can you still have a quick, easy, delicious dinner with pasta that makes you feel good? Here are my favorite pasta alternatives at home {even if you’re gluten free}, and how I eat pasta if I am dining out.

For an easy post-workout meal filled with protein

Bean pasta! If you’re looking for a texture most similar to white pasta, I recommend starting with  Explore Cuisine’s soybean spaghetti (bottom left of picture) or, if you want a different shape, Banza varieties. If you want to jump outside the box, Explore’s adzuki bean spaghetti and edamame and mung bean fettucine are my personal favorites and Tolerant’s red lentil pasta is a variety that one of my clients raves about. I shared how to enjoy Explore’s black bean pasta in the past but with any of the above, you can cook the pasta in the same amount of time as “regular” pasta, add a bag of frozen veggies like spinach or broccoli and then a no sugar added tomato sauce such as Newman’s Own or Wegman’s Organic varieties. Meal complete!
Note: Explore Cuisine’s have the highest protein content per serving with 23-25 grams! That is what you’ll get in a 3-4 oz serving of chicken breast or white fish too. The difference? You are also getting lots of fiber and minerals like calcium and iron.


Above is Explore’s fettucini with roasted asparagus and maitake mushrooms
with a home made red sauce.
Here is Explore’s soybean spaghetti shape with wilted kale and tahini mixed with lemon juice, garlic powder and black pepper.

Here is Banza with sauteed tomatoes, eggplant and padron peppers.

For real, fresh pasta at home

If you have the time, make it! I discussed hard work it takes when I used my grandmas old pasta maker this past Christmas. If you do make some, make double and freeze the dough! I defrosted and then rolled some out a few months after Christmas and made these ravioli (topped w/ homemade sauce that had Sweet Earth “grounds” for protein).

If you don’t pick some up at a local Whole Foods or Italian Market and, if you’re lucky enough, Eataly. I mentioned that we picked up some yummy pastas here during our NYC summer weekend and we made some delicious, balanced and filling dishes with both varieties. The first we tried was a farro linguine. Yes, farro ground into flour, people! One of the great things about any fresh pasta is that it cooks SO quickly {and tastes better, duh). Once it rises to the top you’re done. I had sautéed some garlic with Tuscan herb olive oil in a pan and added broccoli as our veggies and white beans for extra protein. Some homemade tomato sauce was all I needed to complete the meal. While that would have been sufficient, we had some leftover tofu ricotta in the fridge as well as arugula that needed to be eaten so I served over the greens and threw a dollop of ricotta on top. So filling, nutritious and delicious.

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Our second Eataly pasta was the spinach spaghetti we always get. The texture of this one is so creamy. This time we just did white beans with extra tomato sauce, served over a new batch of arugula and added in our new favorite pepper to roast, padron, on the side. Molto bene!

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Closer to your home, most Whole Foods have a fresh pasta counter. In Bucks County, PA and Hunterdon County, NJ  I recommend stopping by Casa di Trevi at the Stockton Market to pick up fresh pasta or veggie stuffed ravioli (even dairy free!) at the pasta stand.

To lighten up after travel or holidays

You knew zoodles, or any veggie noodle for that matter, would come into the picture. The problem with spiralized veggies and spaghetti squash is that many people rely on only them as their carbs for the meal, pair them with protein only, and then wind up overeating later because the meal was more like a snack. You can mix zucchini noodles with some whole wheat pasta to bulk it up and if you do want to use them alone, only do so if you really aren’t that hungry after a heavy food week. Or, make sure you have enough toppings to make it a sufficient meal. Don’t forget that you need protein and healthy fat to feel full. Again, tofu ricotta is one of my easy ways to do this but if you eat poultry a turkey meat sauce can do the trick and, my lentil bolognese is delicious too 🙂 You can top spaghetti squash with either of those too but remember no matter how you serve either, get enough calories, protein and a touch of healthy fat to make the meal complete.


img_2814Plum Tomato Lentil Bolognese - Eat Real Live Well

For lazy spiralized veggies (or if you’re in a pinch), try ordering Hungry Root. They do the work for you and you just need to mix it all in a pan:
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At a restaurant

Not sure why I don’t have a picture here. Typically I would only get the pasta as a side with fish and a veggie so, that may be why! Just imagine the most fresh noodles you’ve ever seen…

My guiding principle here: realize when it is worth it. I personally find it insane to pay $20+ for a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant where they boiled pasta out of a box. I could do that at home for $2 for a whole family if I wanted to. So, for both that reason and for nutrition reasons, I only order pasta out if it has been freshly made. This usually means they go the extra mile for a high quality flour, often imported from Italy and less likely to be stripped of everything or grown with tons of toxic chemicals. Locally for us, Vecchia Osteria makes that happen. They have freshly made pappardale and gnocchi all of the time and on occasion other shapes too. You know I am not sitting there with a huge bowl of pappardelle and sauce though! Add a protein source and fit in a veggie. Also decide if you’d rather have the bread or the pasta rather than having both. At vecchia their bread is so not worth it but their pasta so is. Another great option down in Philly is Amis and in Doylestown is Paganini.

What is your favorite way to eat pasta? Share your at home recipes or post your favorite Italian restaurant – you know I am always looking for good food in any city!

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12 thoughts on “How a Dietitian Eats Pasta

  1. Oh my gosh – looking at these pasta dishes made me drool! I will have to try some of the pastas you suggested! the recopies look amazing. Thank you!

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