Pasta is actually smart for your blood sugar if you choose the whole grain kind and keep your portions moderate.

You might think there’s nothing worse for your blood sugar than a bowl of pasta. Surprisingly, you’d be wrong. As it turns out, pasta has only a moderate effect on blood sugar levels. (The Italian bread you may eat with your pasta, however, is a different story.)

Yes, pasta is high in carbs. But the type of wheat it’s made from (durum wheat) appears to be digested more slowly than similar white flours used to make bread. You can also thank the special protein structure of the dough for pasta’s moderate GL. It’s a protein “latticework” that traps the starch molecules so it takes more time for your stomach’s digestive enzymes to get to them and turn them into blood sugar. (Want to know more? You’ll need a degree in food chemistry.) The more thoroughly you cook pasta, though, the easier it is for your body to break it down, so if you like your pasta al dente, or slightly firm the way Europeans eat it, all the better.

Choose whole wheat pasta instead of regular old white pasta, and you’ll have a serving or two of whole grain — and about three times as much fiber per serving. Remember, you’re aiming to make three of your daily carbohydrate servings whole grains, which will lower your risk of diabetes.

Pasta is pretty much as good — or as bad — for you as what you eat with it. Pile on vegetables like tomatoes and spinach or steamed broccoli, add a little olive oil and garlic, and you’ve got a terrific low-GL meal. Drown your pasta in cream sauce, and you might as well eat cheesecake.

If you’re watching your cholesterol, you might go a little easy with egg noodles. It’s no secret that they’re made with eggs, and since eggs contain cholesterol, so do the noodles. Another option? Eggless “egg” noodles.

Health Bonus
All white pasta is enriched with iron and B vitamins (pasta that’s 100 percent whole grain is not). Pasta also contains some protein, although it’s not a “complete” protein source, meaning that it’s missing some of the amino acids that make up a complete protein. You can easily remedy this by sprinkling a little grated cheese on your pasta.

Glycemic Load: Medium

Cooks Tips
Yes, pasta can last longer than some marriages, up to three years. Store it in a closed pasta canister so you can easily toss it into boiling water on short notice.
After you’ve cooked your pasta (taste it; it should be firm when you bite it), drain it immediately or it will keep cooking.

Menu Magic
Pasta has to be one of the most versatile foods ever invented. All you need to do is pick your pasta; for toppings, the sky’s the limit. Think herbs, sautéed vegetables, beans, chicken, perhaps a bit of olive oil, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. If you include garlic and onions, you could get as many as six Magic foods on one plate!

Grab a bag of frozen vegetables, cook them, and toss them with hot pasta, some olive oil, sautéed garlic, and a bit of cheese for a healthy dinner in no time flat.

Cook any vegetable you like and puree it in the blender. Serve on hot pasta and top with herbs and spices of your choice.

Top pasta with meatballs made with ground turkey breast or extra-lean ground beef and some no-sugar- added tomato sauce. Serve with a nice big green salad.

Add pine nuts or chopped walnuts to your pasta dish. Remember, nuts and seeds are Magic, too.

Add beans, chickpeas, or lentils to a modest portion of pasta to fill up your plate and lower the GL of the meal. You’ll also get more protein.

Smart Substitution
Instead of mashed potatoes: Make pasta with olive oil and zucchini as a side dish with dinner.

Perfect Portion: 1/2 to 1 cup
Serve 1 cup of pasta as a main dish or 1/2 cup as a side dish to keep the GL within the medium range.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest