Why pasta tops the popularity charts

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

Why pasta tops the popularity charts

Pasta is a general term used to describe a food made of hardened, unleavened dough of wheat that is mixed with water and moulded into various shapes. Sometimes other ingredients are added to the wheat flour, such as eggs or vegetable extracts. Or it could be rice, barley, corn, and beans. Egg noodles contain egg. In fact, some say that without egg, noodles really aren’t noodles!

The pasta dough is rolled out and then forced through perforated plates to get the desired shape (sheets, ribbons, chords, tubes etc). This is then dried under controlled conditions. Pasta is meant to be eaten boiled, not baked, and is usually served with a sauce. Pasta is meant to be cooked al dente, which literally means, ‘firm to the bite’. Pasta is available in many shapes and is known by different names, such as spaghetti (thin rods), macaroni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), noodles (thin pipes), lasagna (sheets) and so on. In Italy, locally-made gnocchi and spatzle are also called pasta.

Hoary history
Pasta is one of the oldest forms of food known to mankind. Greek mythology gives credit to the Greek God Vulcan for inventing a device that made the first spaghetti from strings of dough.

There’s evidence suggesting the Etruscans made pasta as early as 400 BC. The Chinese are on record as having eaten pasta as early as 5,000 BC. 

 Pasta is considered to be a nutritious food because it is extremely low in fat content. It is a good source of carbohydrates and also contains protein.  It is an excellent source of fibre and complex carbohydrates. The carbohydrates give our body vitamins, minerals and energy. When we eat pasta, the carbohydrates are in the form of digestible starch, which is slowly absorbed by the body. This is a long process and results in our feeling sated for a long time. That is why it is so popular with athletes who need to have energy for a long period of time.

One cup of cooked pasta provides around 200 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of total fat, no cholesterol and only 1 gram of sodium when cooked without salt. It is nutritious because it is also a good source of iron. A cup of pasta contains iron, potassium, niacin, thiamine, Vitamin B and about 5 mg to 7 mg protein. But it is important to remember that if pasta is over boiled, it causes the loss of Vitamin B. That is why it is important to remove it from heat as soon as it is al dente.  

Pasta is said to be a mood food. Which means, consuming pasta makes one feel good. This is because when you eat pasta it increases the level of a chemical called serotonin in the body. And serotonin makes the brain trigger off the good feeling.

Eat it right
Can all pasta be considered ‘health food’? The answer is Yes and No because it depends on three factors:
*The basic ingredients in the pasta
*How you cook and serve it
*How much of it you eat at one go

Most of the pasta you find in the market is made with refined flour because it looks and tastes better. But refined flour is not healthy. It gets digested very quickly.  And the quicker the digestion, the greater is the release of glucose into the body, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels for a brief period. One feels hungry much faster and consumes more food. This could very well lead to undesirable weight gain instead of the reverse.
So, what you should do, is opt for whole grain pasta, which is made with whole wheat flour instead of refined flour because the fibre content in whole grain pasta is three times that of ordinary white pasta and so it takes much longer to digest. And because it is slowly absorbed into the blood stream, it does not cause a blood sugar spike. Some pasta is made with a mixture of whole grain and refined grain ingredients. Even this is better than plain white pasta made with refined flour.

You could also opt for low carb pasta available at select stores. These have very little carbohydrates and are made with soy products, wheat gluten, egg white, rice flour and salt. This extra nutrition, slower absorption and high fibre help protect against insulin resistance, constipation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Although pasta by itself is not fattening, it is usually served with sauce and toppings that could be rich, especially if it is smothered in cheese, cream or mayonnaise. It is fine so long as the toppings mainly consist of vegetables and low fat portions of chicken. But very often the toppings comprise fried vegetables, meatballs and cheese  and these are high in fat. If you want to eat healthy, it is important to eat pasta with a low-fat sauce. Or with unsweetened tomato sauce.

Limit your intake of pasta to a single cup. It will no longer remain a health food if you consume it in huge quantities!

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