Tips for a healthier pasta

30 Apr 2017
Tips for a healthier pasta
Photo Credit: Recipe photo: Greg Teschner | Food stylist: Abi Ulgiati

Many people have a love-hate relationship with pasta because they fear they’ll gain weight. However, the problem isn’t the pasta but how it’s cooked, the portion size and the toppings we use in Western countries.

Pasta is a simple food made with only two ingredients: durum wheat and water. Contrary to popular belief, when consumed as part of a Mediterranean-style diet abundant in plant foods and extra virgin olive oil, pasta is linked with a smaller waistline! Following are ways to prepare it and achieve both health and pleasure:

What to do

  1. Serve a modest portion, as in Italy, where pasta is never the main event but part of a varied meal. Allow 60 to 80 grams of dry weight per person rather than the 125 grams commonly recommended on packages.
  2. Cook it al dente, meaning firm, as it will have a lower glycaemic index (GI, which refers to the rate the carbohydrate is digested and raises your blood sugar). Avoid mushy canned pasta, which has a higher GI.
  3. Partner pasta with foods that will further lower the GI of your entire meal, such as nuts or seeds (ground into pastes or tahini used to make cream sauce), sofrito (a rich tomato sauce made with extra virgin olive oil, onions, garlic and herbs or cooked dry beans (for example, pinto or kidney).
  4. Choose wholegrain and wholemeal varieties, when possible. However, even regular pasta has a lower GI compared to refined carbohydrate foods like white bread or white rice.
  5. If you’re eating pasta as a main meal, bulk it out with fresh salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Pasta alternatives

For those wanting more variety, try the following:

  • Mung bean vermicelli (also known as glass noodles), made from mung beans.
  • Kelp noodles made from edible brown seaweed—a favourite with raw foodists, because they simply need hydration before use.
  • Konnyaku or konjac noodles are traditionally used in Japan and made from the root of a plant in the taro family.
  • Spaghetti squash or spiral-cut raw vegetables (for example, zucchini linguine).

Almond & sage pesto pasta

Don’t be afraid of sage! Used in the correct way, this high antioxidant herb will bring amazing flavours to your plate. When I was in Sicily, I discovered this simple pesto idea that goes well with wholegrain pasta. Keep your pasta portion modest (80 g dry per person) and cook only until al dente to lower the effect of the carbohydrate on your blood sugar levels. Serve with a fresh salad!

Preparation time: 7 mins • Cooking time: 0 mins • Serves: 8


  • 1 cup almonds
  • 20 g soft sage leaves, plucked from stalks 
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp finely ground salt 
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil


  1. Rinse soaked beans with water and set aside.
  2. Pulverise almonds in a medium food processor, then add sage leaves, garlic and salt and process until it becomes a paste.
  3. While the processor motor is running, drizzle in the olive oil through the chute and process until all ingredients are well combined. Serve pesto tossed through the hot pasta. Or transfer to a glass jar for storage. Makes 1¾ cups. (Note, pesto will store in the fridge for at least one week and freezes well.)


  • Use 1 tbsp pesto per cup of cooked pasta. Loosen up with some cooking water reserved from draining the pasta until it reaches a creamy consistency.
  • Sprinkle with freshly grated pecorino or a “nutritional yeast seasoning” (dairy-free alternative), if desired.
  • To achieve a thicker pesto for crispbread, reduce the amount of oil.

Per serve: Energy 1470 kJ (351 cal). Protein 3 g. Fat 37 g. Saturated fat 5 g. Cholesterol 0 mg. Carbohydrate 1 g. Sugars 1 g. Fibre 2 g. Calcium 80 mg. Iron 1.3 mg. Sodium 287 mg.