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Pasta – Old Favorites with Great Nutrition

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Although pasta may sometimes get an undeserved bad rap for nutritional value, it's one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

A 2-ounce (dry) serving of spaghetti has only 210 calories, yet yield 7 grams of protein, 42 grams of carbohydrates, just l gram of fat, no cholesterol and no sodium.

All that nutritional value stems from pasta's main ingredient: grain. All pasta preparations begin with a dough or paste – pasta means paste in Italian – made by mixing ground grain or flour and liquid: but additional ingredients, preparation methods and shapes vary considerably.

Most Western pasta, for instance, is made from finely ground wheat or wheat flour: many Oriental pastas use rice flour or starches derived from potatoes or beans. However they're made, all pastas have subtle flavor and tender but firm texture.

Pasta's Past

Like many foods, pasta is the result of a long process of accident and evolution that began well before recorded history. More than 100 centuries ago in the Middle East, wheat grew wild and in great abundance. By 9000 B.C. villages had been established near the fields by formerly nomadic people who gathered and cultivated wild grain.

Making Pasta

Pasta can be made one of two ways: by rolling dough thin and cutting it into the desired shape, or forcing the dough through a mold. It can be cooked fresh or dried for preparation later. The best molded pastas are made from semolina, a coarsely ground, hard Durham wheat, which produces strong, resilient dough.

Whatever the pasta, its preliminary, and sometimes only, cooking takes place in liquid – usually boiling water. The texture should be, in the Italian phrase, al dente – tender but firm to the bite.

Choose Healthy Accompaniments

The accompanying cream-based sauces, abundant amounts of cheese and high-fat meats give pasta its bad reputation.

Fortunately, many restaurants have responded to the cries of health-conscious diners and now offer healthy alternatives. Look for dishes that feature tomato-based sauces (use sparing for low-or no-fat) amounts of cheese and contain lean red meat, chicken or fish. At home, experiment with some of your favorite pasta recipes. Substitute ground turkey for hamburger in a meat sauce. Use less cheese in your lasagna, or try a lower-calorie alternative.

If the substitutions you try just don't cut it, consider using that creamy fettucini alfredo as a smaller side dish rather than an entree,and then serve a healthier main course, such as fish.

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