Monday, September 28, 2009

Pasta Sans Pasta

Nothing beats a heaping bowl of spaghetti when you want something filling, simple, and comforting.  I have the perfect substitution for pasta that is BETTER than pasta.

Here are just a few of the problems with wheat pasta (Disclaimer: this is MY take on the information out there I have gathered through my CrossFit Nutrition Certification by Robb Wolf, my biology and physical anthropology degrees, books on diet and health, and my internet searches.  I am NOT a biochemist, but I want to try to explain things as I understand them hopefully in a way YOU understand and can benefit from):

1.  It contains wheat, which is a grain, which has lectins and gluten that screw up your digestive system making it difficult to digest and absorb nutrients.  Grains put your digestive system in a state of battle with the food you are ingesting.  Gluten is sticky and lines your gut, promoting harmful bacteria growth and decreasing your ability to absorb useful vitamins, minerals, and nutrients into your bloodstream.  Plus, now your immune system has to fight that bacteria.  Lectins are mild toxins found in grains that inhibit the repair processes in your gut and leave the door open for particles from your gut to leak into the bloodstream.  These foreign particles illicit an immune response from your body to search out and destroy them.  Autoimmune disorders can result from an overtaxed immune system.  It is no wonder most of us are gluten sensitive to some degree and even if you think you are "fine," try going without them for two weeks and then reintroducing them.  They will likely make you sick in a not so pleasant way.

2.  Grains have a very high glycemic load.  They are sugar in disguise and release a ton of glucose (a simple sugar that all carbohydrate is broken down into) into your bloodstream, which forces your body to release insulin, a hormone whose job it is to get glucose out of your blood and into your muscle and liver cells as an energy source.  Once they are full, the overflow of sugar going to those cells must be stored  instead.  So excess carbohydrate becomes FAT.  Your body tries desperately to get glucose out of your bloodstream and into cells because it is toxic there--it binds to proteins and clogs arteries.  The cycle of fat storage is made worse by the fact that insult inhibits a fat-burning enzyme, lipase, so you can't use your fat for energy as efficiently.

A constant overflow of sugar also makes you insulin resistant, which means it takes more and more insulin to get the same response as if you had a lower glycemic diet.  This is because your body is trying to squish more glucose into cells that say "no vacancy," so more insulin is released to find other places to stick it, which are fat cells.  Your body learns that to get the glucose out of your blood it takes more and more insulin, so it releases more each time.  The production of insulin by your pancreas isn't cheap and high levels of it in your bloodstream are toxic, leading to more problems such as arterial clogging plague and cancer cell proliferation.   The disastrous cascade goes on and on...

Thus, by ingesting foods with high glycemic loads like grains, you are essentially breaking your digestive system and making its use of nutrients for energy less efficient.  And guess what happens when you crash after eating too much sugar--you get tired and hungry again.

3.  It isn't very nutritious.  The nutrients are bound up inside it and isn't a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber compared to going to the source: veggies.  Even meat has more available vitamins and far outweighs grains as a protein source.

4.  It is more processed.  We are trying to mimic a more natural diet of our ancestors.  Think outside the box.

5.  Finally, does it actually have a taste?  Is it something people can eat alone (without fat)?  Not really.  It is mostly just cheap, bulking filler to satiate you.

Vegetable pastas have taste, are grown and not processed, are nutritious, are low glycemic foods, and are natural back-to-the-earth foods.  You can support your local farmers by buying them fresh and local.

Here are two vegetable pasta varieties that will blow your mind and forever change your pasta perceptions.  Both are superb served with a meat sauce, but I encourage you to experiment with them and other sauce varieties.

Basic Meat Sauce
Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes 

1 lb ground beef (preferably grassfed)
1 16oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 T each of oregano, basil, onion powder/dehydrated onions, garlic, kosher salt
1/2-1 tsp each of red pepper flakes and black pepper
(NOTE: You can get fancier, but this sauce is quick and easy for a weekday meal)

Brown beef over medium high heat in a skillet.  Once browned, add sauce and spices and simmer to mix flavors and reduce sauce to desired consistency (minimum of 10min).  Combine with pasta choice and enjoy!

Zucchini Pasta
Zucchini has a neutral, fresh veggie taste with a lovely crunch
Cooking Time: prep time is 5 minutes, cooking is ZERO (just warm)

1 med-large zucchini per diner
specialty equipment: serrated veggie peeler to make noodles when instead of peels (between $5-20 at a cookware store, looks just like a regular peeler just with teeth along the blade)

Wash the zucchini.  Cut off the ends.  Peel into noodles with the peeler.  NOTE: gets tricky at the end with the nubs that don't want to peel.  You can chop those and add them to the sauce.  Warm noodles in the sauce before serving.  They have a delightful crunch!

Spaghetti Squash Pasta
Spaghetti squash pasta has a nutty, buttery taste with a pleasing crunch
Cooking Time: less than 30 minutes

1 med-large spaghetti squash (oval, bright yellow squash)
(NOTE: one large one can easily feed the whole family!)

Punch holes in the squash with a fork or chef's knife (the skin is thick!).  Place in microwave with moistened paper towels circling it (one layer).   Microwave on high for 2-5 minutes, flip, and repeat for as long as it takes to be able to compress the top of the squash easily--about 20 minutes for really large ones.  Remove and place on cutting board.  Rest 5 minutes.  Then, using a chef's knife, carefully cut in half lengthwise being careful not to burn yourself on the steam.  Use a large spoon to remove the seeds and stringy seed casing.  Then use a fork or spoon to scrape the sides of the squash into noodles and separate them into another bowl, separating the noodles into strands once there.  Continue until you remove all of the noodles you can and add them to the meat sauce, coating them evenly.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti Squash on FoodistaSpaghetti Squash
Zucchini Noodles on FoodistaZucchini Noodles


  1. Why not take it a step further and bake the squash instead of using a microwave? Many questions have been raised regarding the safety of microwaving food since it morphs food particles into something the human body can't process.

  2. Really like your pasta ideas. I've heard of Kelp noodles but can not find them where I am. Wondering if you have had any experience with them.

  3. Hi Anonymous,
    I agree that microwaving is a crutch and baking is probably better. Whatever the method, spaghetti squash is a great pasta sans pasta!

    Hi Cspin,
    Thank you for the comment! I've tried kelp noodles from the refrigerated tofu and alt. meat area of the supermarket. They are a great alternative to pasta!

    Best wishes,

  4. I'm interested in trying the zuccini pasta...I eat the spaghetti squash regularly (and usually microwave it to save time..I'll admit). I have to admit though, it's just isnt the same as regular pasta. I'm clearly having cravings right now (2 weeks into paleo) because I think I would kill for a bowl of fetucine alfredo at the moment. LOL