Pasta with Morel Mushroom and Asparagus. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Photo: Romain Blanquart/TNS
Photo: Romain Blanquart/TNS

Rethinking pasta

Pasta, like carbs in general, often gets a bad rap. Carbs and pasta are often the first thing people cut out of their diets to lose weight.

That may not be the best thing to do, according to a recent article in Environmental Nutrition. 

Studies show pasta consumption is linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. You may find that surprising. But when pasta is cooked and cooled, it becomes a resistant starch, which is not broken down by digestive enzymes. Resistant starch increases fat burning and reduces the fat storage of fat cells, suggesting it may help with weight loss, according to Denise Webb, registered dietitian. 

If you choose whole grain or whole-wheat pasta, it has the added benefit of promoting fullness and reducing hunger due to its fiber boost. If you're not crazy about its nuttier flavor, try mixing regular pasta with whole-wheat or vegetable pasta noodles. Another added benefit of pasta is that it's often paired with vegetables and herbs, helping to include more veggies in your diet. Be sure and choose a tomato-based sauce over a heavy cream sauce. 

Pasta is typically made from high protein, hard durum wheat -- the same wheat used to make couscous, but a different wheat than is used to make bread and Asian-style noodles. And most dry pasta is enriched with iron, riboflavin, thiamin and folic acid. A half-cup serving is rated an excellent source of B vitamins and a good source of iron. 

How you cook pasta makes a difference in its glycemic index (the higher the GI, the more likely to raise blood sugar levels). Webb suggests cooking it less -- only to the al dente stage, which is a slightly firmer texture, not soft and mushy. Al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than longer cooked, softer pasta. In addition, pasta that is leftover and refrigerated has additional health benefits. 

The key to including pasta -- and any food in a healthy diet -- is portion control. The standard serving is one-half cup cooked, or 1 ounce dry, which is about the size of a quarter. 

The bottom line? Plan to eat a variety of foods in moderation and balance. Include pasta, especially whole wheat or whole grain, as part of a healthy lifestyle. 

Q and A 

Q: Does the temperature of the water matter when washing your hands? 

A: No. The FDA Food Code for retail food operations mandates that handwashing sinks provide water at 100 degrees or higher, and this guideline is often interpreted to mean that such temperatures are best. But there's no good evidence to support the idea that hotter is better. Rather, a few studies have found that water temperature has no significant effect on reducing microbes under normal handwashing conditions. The latest study, in the Journal of Food Protection in June, involved 20 volunteers who, after having their hands contaminated with a nonpathogenic strain of E.Coli bacteria, washed their hands under different conditions, including varying water temperatures (100, 80 and 60 degrees). As in previous studies, the cool water was just as good as warmer water in reducing microbial load. Hotter water does cut through oil on your hands faster, so they may feel cleaner. But very hot water can also damage skin, making it more susceptible to colonization by bacteria, which are then harder to remove. Hotter water also uses more energy. So, washing with cooler water is not only as effective, it's also more energy-efficient. The new study also tested the optimal amount of soap to use (one pump of foam soap was just as effective as four pumps) and lather time (10 to 20 seconds of rubbing soapy hands together, followed by a 10-second rinse, was better than five seconds of scrubbing, followed by rinsing). Lathering beyond that had no additional benefit, possibly because microbes that are not already washed off by then are so embedded in the skin that they will not be removed no matter how long you wash your hands. The study further confirmed that antibacterial soap is not significantly better at removing bacteria than plain soap. -- University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter. 

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