Pasta is usually thought of as an unhealthy or non-diet friendly dish, isn’t it? In this brief post, I intend to analyze this comfort dish of mine. I’m going to look at one of my easy go-to recipes, which is quick and comforting. By quick I literally mean done in nine minutes.

This post is not intended to be a recipe, but since it’s so simple, I can spend one paragraph or two describing the procedure. The following table summarizes the ingredients and the deconstruction for one portion. I’m not going to decompose further the noodles as they’re literally flour, salt, and water.

ItemCaloriesCarbsProteinFat
Semolina Pasta with Pomodoro Suace397.956.814.412.7
64g dry semolina pasta237.4447.798.350.97
18g bacon75.060.232.277.14
3 garlic cloves13.412.980.570.05
6 cherry tomatoes18.363.970.90.2
1/2 tsp olive oil19.89002.25
4 fresh thyme sprigs3.230.780.180.05
6 basil leaves0.690.080.090.02
1/4 oz parmesan cheese29.770.992.011.97
Deconstruction of one of my pasta recipes.

Side-Track: Recipe

The procedure for cooking is quite simple. If you don’t care about the recipe you can safely skip this section.

Mise en place

Mince the garlic. Tear the thyme leaves. Dice the tomatoes. Chop the bacon.

Preparation

In a medium saucepan bring to boil enough water and add kosher salt to taste. Add the pasta and cook until it’s slightly undercooked. Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy water, strain, and reserve.

For the sauce. Heat a skillet and add the bacon pieces, no oil is required. Cook the bacon until it’s rendered the fat. Add the garlic, and thyme and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the starch water and the tomatoes, and reduce until thickened. Test and adjust the salt. Add the pasta and parmesan cheese to finish the cooking. Serve with basil leaves and drizzle with olive oil.

Deconstruction

One note on the pasta selection: I use whole grain pasta (in this case, I made my own from milling durum wheat) because of the micronutrients and the fiber. You want to incorporate fiber in your diet for many reasons that you can read here. Standard pasta is sweeter and goes better with certain types of sauce, but for comfort food, I’m not that picky. Yet the sauce pairs very well with whole-grain semolina pasta.

My home-made whole-grain semolina pasta drying in the pasta hanger.

As you can see, almost 60% of the calories come from the pasta itself. Did you think most of the calories came from the bacon? For many years I had a misconception from bacon as unhealthy. Trying out the keto eating style busted that myth for me. Actually, the reason why I included the recipe was to make this point: by including the bacon, I’m making the recipe even healthier! This is because I can avoid cooking my sauce with oil by taking advantage of the rendered bacon fat. I also barely have to add any salt to it since the bacon is also a salty item. Finally, bacon adds a good share of protein into the mix.

Another noteworthy thing about this dish is that it only represents 20% of a standard 2000-calorie diet. That’s not too bad for one main course! You can even indulge in the parmesan a little more without adding many calories.

One thing to note about this recipe is the ratios of the macro-nutrients: 15% protein, 17% fat, 68% carbs. This is far from the standard Mediterranean diet macros. But you can bring it closer by adding bacon and fewer noodles. Still, if you’re into running, cycling, or other cardio activities, this would be a great pre-workout meal.

The Pasta Myth

Why then does pasta have such a bad association with unhealthy? You can read all about it in this article. But I will give you my interpretation.

The most popular type of pasta is the processed one, which doesn’t have the fiber and the micronutrients. This type will be digested much faster than the one made with whole grain. This carb-dense meal will be metabolized by the body through glycolysis, leading to an insulin spike, which will make you hungrier briefly after absorbed. We digest the whole-grain variety much slowly and it makes us feel satisfied for longer. Especially with the help of bacon!

Like many millennials, I grew up being fed by GenX parents. Unlike my grandparents, who were used to all of the DIY stock in their pantries, my parents relied heavily on convenient packaged foods highly processed and stripped of all nutrition. I grew up listening to nutritionists and watching diet shows on TV recommending against eating pasta (of the processed kind), and I suspect I’m not alone.

Conclusion

This Italian staple has been demonized for decades. A reputation that it earned for their processed cousins, the low-carb fad, and the gluten-free fad. In my mind, when consumed in its whole-grain variation, and better if it’s home-made, with a simple sauce made of top-quality ingredients, it can make a wholesome, satisfying meal that you can have before your cardio exercises for a boost of energy.