Pizza? Pasta? Tiramisú? What springs to mind when you consider the cuisine from our Italian neighbours? It may come as a little surprise that this food-loving nation was ranked second by Bloomberg in its ‘Healthiest Country Index’. So, you may ask yourself…how?

First and foremost, this enviable position is owed to the fact that Italians, despite our assumptions, do not in fact gorge on a pizza-packed diet, but instead follow the so-called ‘Mediterranean’ way of eating. Ah, the ‘Mediterranean diet’- a somewhat elusive term often bandied around as being the answer to long-life and wellness. So what is it and how can you follow the footsteps of the inhabitants of il bel paese?

Mediterranean Diet – What is it?

This diet, adopted by Mediterranean-located countries including Greece, Southern Italy and Spain is typically comprised of fresh fruit, fish and vegetables, as well as liberal lashings of olive oil and a moderate approach to meat and dairy consumption. In fact, the British Heart Foundation have even put together a list of key top tips for making meals more Mediterranean.

That’s right, it’s as simple as that- and no radical food elimination, supplement reliance or excessive focus on certain food groups. Not a drastic diet in a bid to fuel weight loss, but instead, a balance.

Pasta and The Mediterranean Diet

The perfect accompaniment to a vegetable-rich diet? Pasta! Indeed, reports suggest that pasta plays a key part in traditional Mediterranean diets. The health benefits of a starchy food like pasta are believed to be numerous, due to their high levels of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, as well as B vitamins, with grain and whole-wheat pasta varieties being a particularly rich source of fibre. Moreover, as a source of carbohydrate, pasta is a great slow-release of energy, making it often synonymous as the ‘go-to’ energy source and performance enhancer for serious athletes such as swimmers and runners.

As an NHS article purports, when looking at the impacts of pasta and weight gain, it is important to remember that it’s not just pasta that needs to be considered but also the other ingredients with which it is accompanied!

Pasta Pairing

Do not underestimate the power of pairing! Just as pairing fruit with chocolate fondue doesn’t make it healthy, eating a pasta dish which is swimming in a rich sauce is equally as calorific. That’s why we offer a calorie count for our meals, making it easier for you to plan.

Now we’re not here to blitz your brain with baffling charts and a torrent of statistics. The bottom line? Pasta, in moderation, can be part of a balanced diet. Indeed anything can arguably become unhealthy. We hate to break it to you but eating mountains of melon, existing on edamame, surviving on strawberries or pigging-out on peas 7 days a week, is likely to do more harm than good (not to mention boring). In need of some inspiration|? Browse BBC Good Food and the British Heart Foundation for a tantalising selection of healthy pasta recipes.

Do you really know what’s in your pasta? In a bid to increase their bottom line, supermarkets seek to extend the shelf life of their products- to do this, they need additives. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the following comparison between our own Carbonara Sauce with a leading branded product…

@onehungryasian

A product description comparison: Carbonara sauce

Pasta Evangelists Carbonara Sauce: Cream (Milk), Pancetta, Parmesan Cheese (Milk), Egg Yolk, Water, Black Pepper

Leading Branded Pouch of Carbonara Ingredients List: Water, Cream (from Milk) (14%), Ham (5.9%) (Pork, Water, Brine Mix (Dextrose, Stabiliser (Triphosphate), Flavouring, Antioxidant (Sodium Ascorbate)), Salt, Preservative (Sodium Nitrite)), Modified Maize Starch, Cheddar Cheese (from Milk) (2.0%), Broth Powder (Sugar, Flavourings, Yeast Extract, Dried Glucose Syrup, Salt, Coconut Fat, Sunflower Oil, Smoke Flavouring, Milk Protein), Milk Proteins, Salt, Garlic (0.2%), Yeast Extract (contains Barley), Spices, Sugar.

We’re not biased but surely we’re not alone in thinking that Italian nonnas don’t add a sprinkle of sodium nitrate or dash of dried glucose to their sauces…? So whilst our fresh pasta and sauces must be eaten up within two days due to their freshness, we firmly feel this is a far healthier way to eat than tucking into a pasta sauce in which the ingredients may sometimes read like a chemistry lesson…

However, it’s not just the big brands who’re culpable; a study conducted by Which? reportedly found that when it came to pesto, leading supermarkets were guilty of using cashew nuts instead of pine nuts and sunflower oil. Whilst this makes it cheaper to produce, it is not pesto!! It can also be said to be far less healthy given the known nutrition benefits of monounsaturated oils like versus the somewhat concerning polyunsaturated fats found in the likes of sunflower oil.

A little extra

As well as the main bulk of your plate being vegetable laden, following a Mediterranean diet also advises consumption of nuts. A sneaky way to get a dose of these healthy fats in your main meal? The garnish! A great way to complete a dish- whether that be an antioxidant loaded pistachio crumb or a smattering of crushed walnuts- a nut cited as possessing neuro-benefits including ameliorating memory function and overall brain health (BBC Good Food), these little extras offer not only great taste and texture but added health benefits too- a winning combination! Why not view this week’s menu to see which garnishes we’re going nuts about?

Pasta Portion Size

Equally as important as pairing is portion control- piling your plate with a mountain of pasta is quite clearly not a good idea (we’ve all been there, good idea at the time, not so great afterwards). Joking aside, one of the great things about pasta is it makes you feel fuller for longer due to the longer length of time it takes to metabolise. It has a lower Glycaemic index than the likes of white rice and couscous, at 73 and 65 respectively (Harvard Health Publishing, ,2018) (or even, believe it or not, an even lower index than watermelon!). As a result, it can be said that you’re less likely to graze on somewhat questionable snacks between meals, frequent the office fridge, take a jaunt to the office biscuit jar or saunter to the supermarket confectionery aisle mid-afternoon.  

But, before you get too carried away and start thinking this is an excuse to go gnocchi-nuts or carbonara-crazy, remember that portion size when considering GI is key, as illustrated in an article by Diabetes UK.

The bottom line? Balance. We’re not suggesting you have pasta every day of the week, but we think it’s important to have variety. That’s why we will do our very best to provide a vegetarian option or fish selection, as well as a selection of meat-based dishes so you can mix and match. Whether that be for a fish-fuelled Friday with a Devon Crab Ravioli or a Sausage lasagne Saturday, you can continue eating pasta as part of a varied and healthy diet and not feel guilty. Now start as you mean to go on and take a quick peek at next week’s menu here

Thanks for reading, Enjoy 10% OFF your next purchase at PastaEvangelists.com when you use code: BLOGEVANGELISTS