Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Healthy Alternatives to White Pasta or Rice

If you're thinking of your favorite comfort food, most likely it contains either pasta or rice. (Or chocolate - we'll cover that on Friday!) :-)  Pasta and white rice are staples in pantries around the world.  They go with just about anything from gravy to tomato sauce; they’re filling and they’re quite tasty.  The trouble is they have very little nutritional value, and a diet rich in white pasta and rice has now been linked to health problems including systemic inflammation (leading to heart disease), diabetes and other complications. 

The good news is that there are some wonderful, nutritious and delicious alternatives to white pasta or rice. 

* Quinoa is a protein-rich grain which is native to the Andes.  This is one of my favorites. It has a delightful flavor and is easy to prepare.  It tastes great as a cold salad or hot.  It can also be made into pasta.

Whole wheat penne pasta (Photo credit: flavorrelish)
* Whole wheat pasta has become such a high demand product that you can often find it in your local supermarket right alongside the traditional white pasta.  It’s higher in fiber, protein, B vitamins, and minerals than standard white flour varieties. 

* Buckwheat is another alternative to consider.  Ever have soba noodles?  Soba is made from buckwheat and is high in protein and fiber.  It’s delicious with Japanese recipes and flavors and also wonderful in soup.

* Spelt, commonly used to make gluten-free bread and cereal, can also be used to make pasta. It has a sweet, nutty flavor. 

* Brown rice is just as filling and versatile as white rice but it’s much healthier for you.  It is a great source of fiber, has a bit of protein and other nutrients and has a delightful texture and a richer, nuttier flavor and aroma than white rice. 

* While corn isn’t typically made into pasta, it is what makes up polenta.  Polenta is great with traditional Italian flavors like tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.  It makes a tasty white pasta replacement. 

Spaghetti squash "noodles". (Photo credit: famfriendsfood)
* Finally, consider trying vegetables like zucchini or spaghetti squash as the foundation for your next pasta meal.  Zucchini can be sliced thin, about the width of linguini, sautéed for a few seconds and then topped with pasta sauce and cheese as you normally would.  Spaghetti squash is prepared by baking and then can be scraped out with a fork to look like spaghetti - it can be used in many traditional comfort food dishes in place of spaghetti or noodles, and can also be baked in casseroles.

So the next time you’re searching for an alternative to white pasta and/or white rice to make your favorite comfort food, consider one of these tasty options.  Most are just as affordable, easy to prepare and they’re healthier and more delicious that the old standby. 

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