Pasta is a type of noodle most commonly made from semolina (ground kernels of durum wheat). It’s sometimes also made with other ingredients, like rice, beans, corn or barley. Water is added to the wheat until it forms a stiff dough. Then, the dough is kneaded and pushed through a die which produces strands of a shaped pasta. The strands are cut into the desired lengths, then dried and packaged.
Ancient records show the Chinese ate pasta as long ago as 5,000 B.C. By 400 B.C. ancient Etruscans were making their own pasta. The English brought pasta to the colonies, often covering the noodles with thick creams and sauces. Thomas Jefferson introduced macaroni to America in 1789.
Today, there are more than 600 shapes of pasta sold throughout the world. Some common types include spaghetti, angel hair, shells, macaroni, rigatoni, rotini, ziti, manicotti, lasagna and bow ties. Most pasta is a creamy yellow color. Other ingredients can be added to change the color, like tomato for red pasta and spinach for green pasta.
The National Pasta Association estimates an average American eats about 15½ pounds of pasta every year. In contrast, the average person in Italy eats about 51 pounds of pasta annually. In 2000, more than 1.3 million pounds of pasta were sold in American grocery stores.
Pasta for Health
Pasta sometimes has a bad reputation because it is seen as a “starchy” food and is often paired with heavy, cholesterol-rich sauces. However, by itself, pasta isn’t bad. A two-ounce serving of non-egg pasta has about 200 calories, one gram of fat and little to no cholesterol or sodium. It’s also a good source of carbohydrates, which are broken down and used as fuel by the body. Enriched pasta is a source of iron, folate and B-vitamins. When topped with a healthy sauce and/or vegetables, pasta can be an important food in a healthy diet.
One way to increase the nutritional value of pasta is to use wheat varieties. According to the American Dietetic Association, whole-grain pasta contains three times the fiber found in regular pasta. Martine Scannavino, D.H.Sc., R.D., Nutritionist with Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA, says examples of whole grain pasta include buckwheat and rice pastas. But read the label thoroughly, as sometimes packages are deceiving. A product labeled as being a source of whole grain may actually contain very little whole grain. The best way to determine the grain value of pasta is to look at the ingredients panel. Ingredients are listed in order of content, from the most to the least. A real whole grain pasta will have the grain listed as the first ingredient. Scannavino says if the grain is listed as second, third or further down the list, the pasta is really mostly made from white flour with a small amount of added grain.
Scannavino says consumers can also be drawn to packages that are enriched with other healthy ingredients, like flaxseed and omega-3 fatty acids. While there is no question about the value of these ingredients, she says these fortified pastas are often very expensive. People who already eat a healthy diet may not necessarily need to spend the extra money on the fortified pasta. Instead, she recommends putting the money into fresh, healthy toppings, like steamed vegetables.
American Dietetic Association, http://www.eatright.org
National Pasta Association, http://www.ilovepasta.org
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