Powering Up Your Pasta!

Pasta with tomato sauce is a common meal that can be very nutritious. Plus, the nutritional value can be boosted very easily, with just a few tricks.

Tomato sauce is one of the best nutrition buys that is easily available and widely used. Tomatoes have two uncommon characteristics that should earn them a place as a staple in your diet. First, tomatoes are packed with a rare and powerful antioxidant (lycopene) that helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and likely a whole host of other health problems. Second, tomatoes have a savory taste, making them taste boosters. Many people are aware that people have four basic tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour — but savory is a fifth taste! Unfortunately, savory taste compounds are relatively uncommon in the average diet. Tomatoes and mushrooms are two common foods which add savory taste (you can probably guess where that is going!).

When choosing a jar or can of tomato sauce, check the nutrition label for sugar and sodium. Choose a variety with a lower sugar and sodium content. If you find a variety that you like on sale, stock up on it, it will store very well. If you make your own sauce from tomato paste or fresh tomatoes you can leave the sugar out and control the salt content.

Next, power up your tomato sauce! This is easy to do with oregano, garlic, onion, mushroom, and balsamic vinegar. Dried oregano has the highest antioxidant content per serving of any commonly used spice. Just add a couple of tablespoons! Onions and garlic both come from a plant family offering powerful health benefits: anti-heart disease, anti-cancer, and anti-microbial. The easiest boost is to add chopped garlic (I keep a jar in the refrigerator at all times). If you have the time, sauté a chopped onion or two, along with chopped garlic. Sautéing in olive oil is both a tasty and nutritious choice. If you are going to use mushrooms, go ahead and add those as well. If you are using canned mushrooms, you can add the “juice”, so you don’t throw out a bunch of those water-soluble nutrients (and flavor). You can also add other vegetables, such as green peppers, to boost nutrition and flavor.  Adding a dash of balsamic vinegar will help create a rich, meaty flavor and additional nutrition.  I like adding ground red pepper for even more nutritional and taste punch.  Hot pepper is particularly useful if you are using/making lower salt tomato sauce.

To pack the biggest punch, eat a lot of sauce with your pasta, particularly if you are resorting to refined grain pasta. I would strongly recommend using whole wheat pasta. The nutritional value of whole grains versus refined grains is incomparable. It’s somewhat more expensive, but well worth it nutritionally. If you are not used to the taste, give it a try; it’s something your tastes can adapt to over time (if you are not willing to use whole wheat pasta, using whole wheat bread in your diet might offer an easier start).  When boiling pasta, don’t use excessive water, since water soluble vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients leech out (or you can use the leftover water for other cooking).

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