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.”
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.