Lunden Souza: Try these simple, healthful alternatives to white pasta

01/28/2012 1:23 AM

01/28/2012 1:45 AM

I'm half Italian, thanks to my beautiful mother. One of the most amazing meals that my mom and my grandmother make is their famous pasta. What's most incredible about the dish isn't even the pasta; it's the sauce.

People often think that pasta is the dieter's nightmare because of all of the carbohydrates in it. And most of them are right. White pasta really isn't ideal if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a lean physique.

But there's no way I can live without my mom's homemade pasta sauce (which she makes for me in bulk and I freeze). At the same time, I don't want to stuff my face with a bunch of white carbohydrates that are just going to counter all of my hard work.

Here are alternatives to pasta noodles, so that we can enjoy that ever-tasty Italian delight.

The first one is my very favorite: spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash is a yellow squash shaped like a small watermelon. When you cook the spaghetti squash, the inside texture becomes like strands of spaghetti that you can scrape out with a fork.

There are two ways to cook a spaghetti squash. If you cook it in the oven, cut it in half and put it in a Pyrex pan with just a little bit of water, cut side facing up. Cook it at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes and it turns out just perfect. If you don't have enough time to bake it in the oven, you can just poke a couple of holes in the squash and microwave it on "high" for 10 minutes. Either way, the result is an awesome pasta substitute. One cup of the squash is only 10 grams of carbohydrates compared with about 40 grams in a cup of regular spaghetti.

Not all grocery stores carry spaghetti squash, so make sure you call the store before you go looking for one. I've made that mistake plenty of times.

The second alternative to pasta is zucchini. For those of you who follow my blog, you probably saw the concoction I posted about a week ago. Slice up zucchini squash really thin and then sauté the strips in nonfat cooking spray with some pepper and garlic powder until they reach the desired softness. The last time that I made this I used two medium zucchini squash for myself; it was an ideal portion size. It filled me up but didn't make me overwhelmingly full. as I too often find myself with white pasta.

The third alternative to white pasta is whole wheat pasta. Yes, there are carbohydrates in whole wheat pasta, but they're complex carbohydrates. They'll stay in your system longer and keep your metabolism running for a lot longer than a simple carbohydrate such as white pasta that goes through your system very quickly. Whole wheat pasta also contains more fiber than white pasta, which is always good for our digestive system and metabolism.

If I'm going to have whole wheat pasta with my pasta sauce, I usually have it for lunch or for an early dinner, about 5 p.m. That's so I'm not loading up on carbohydrates and then going to bed, where it will to turn to fat. When I train for the half-marathon I run in May, it's a whole different story -- carbohydrates become my best friend. But that's another column for another week.

Even if you aren't Italian, you likely love pasta and that amazing sauce that goes on top. As long as you don't add a ton of cheese or salt to it, it's nutritious and figure-friendly. Buon appetito!

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