The Best Healthy Spaghetti Recipe This Nutritionist Loves

Pasta food

A healthy spaghetti recipe from a dietitian is not an oxymoron. I am a registered dietitian and I totally agree with spaghetti (read my article on why pasta is healthy for more details) and all kinds of pasta. I’ll tell you why.

First, let’s get into the nutrition of pasta. Many people are afraid of pasta because of its high carbohydrate content. And believe me, I get it. The health industry is currently in a phase of demonizing carbohydrates and turning them into outcasts, claiming they cause all of our problems.

According to a research review in the magazine StarchWhen we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks those carbohydrates down into glucose. This glucose, or sugar, is the body’s preferred source of energy. It fuels everything we do – from getting out of bed and walking the dog to our thought processes and training.

That’s right – I believe carbs are not only good for you, but necessary. The catch is that people need to eat carbohydrates in appropriate portions and with other nutrients. If we only eat carbohydrates, in large amounts, they become unhealthy. That can lead to high blood sugar, possible insulin resistance, and maybe even weight gain.

This is how you prepare your favorite pasta in a healthy way

So let’s go back to pasta. When I said that we need to be aware of what we combine carbohydrates with, that certainly applies to pasta. Since pasta is mostly carbohydrates, we want to make sure we combine it with other macronutrients (protein and fat) and fiber. This ensures slow digestion and the greatest nutritional value for your money.

Pack your pasta dish with proteins

Let’s talk about protein first. Protein is one of the main building blocks of muscles, bones and cartilage. It also plays a key role in hormone balance. Finally, it’s super filling. When we eat protein, we break it into smaller peptide chains that block mu-opioid receptors (MORs)small receptors that tell the brain to keep eating or to stop. When MORs are blocked, we experience the feeling of fullness, according to research published in eLife.

Adding things like ground chicken, turkey, or lean beef are all excellent options for adding protein to pasta. You can also add shrimp, cod, salmon, tuna or tofu to increase the protein content.

If you really want to be an overachiever, go for bean-based pastas. These include pastes made from chickpeas, lentils or black beans. They contain about double the protein as regular pasta! The combination of a bean-based and a lean protein makes for a super satisfying meal.

(Here are more of the healthiest pasta to try.)

Add healthy fats

We should not forget healthy fats. Fats are essential to the diet. They provide a lot of energy for cell growth and daily functions, and nutrients that enable us to absorb certain essential vitamins – ever heard of fat-soluble vitamins? Well, these are vitamins A, D, E, and K, and they are vital for a multitude of bodily functions. But they need fat for the body to absorb them properly.

So, how can we add healthy fats to pasta? This part is all about the sauce. If you go for marinara, sauté garlic in some extra virgin olive oil. If you go for pesto, mix your pesto with olive oil and avocado – this will not only add healthy fats, it will add amazing creaminess. If you’re craving pasta with a creamier side, mix in some cashews and water until a thick cream is formed, increasing the healthy fat content.

Add high-fiber foods

Fiber is so crucial for various bodily functions. For starters, it helps to keep us regular. Look, we’re actually incapable of digesting fiber. So it passes through our system, collecting waste and excreting it through our feces. Fiber also serves to keep cholesterol levels low. In particular, soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the body and prepares it to leave the body.

We add fiber to pasta using one magic word: vegetables. (Vegetables are always the answer.) A good rule of thumb is to always have vegetables with dinner, no matter what. Adding things like mushrooms, bell peppers, onions or zucchini to pasta dishes adds bulk and lots of fiber. Even adding just one cup of spinach (which we all know essentially turns into nothing) adds about four grams of fiber.

I suggest sticking to non-starchy vegetables with pasta. Since the pasta has a high carbohydrate content, there is no need to add more with starchy vegetables such as peas or potatoes. Instead, opt for asparagus, green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, or eggplant.

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Yes, you need to watch your portions

Before we get into my favorite spaghetti recipe, let’s talk about portions. You can do all the things I just mentioned — including protein, fat, and fiber — but if you don’t use appropriate portions, that healthy pasta dish can quickly turn into a carb-heavy, blood-sugar-boosting ordeal. You want to stick to two ounces of dry pasta per serving. This makes about three-quarters of a cup to a full cup of cooked pasta.

Now I know what you’re thinking: who’s going to feed that? It certainly doesn’t look like the huge portions we’re used to seeing in restaurants. But that’s why we want to make sure we include protein, healthy fats and fiber. By including those nutrients, you’re sure to make a balanced, well-rounded, and filling meal. So you won’t feel like you’re missing anything.

The mistake many people make when it comes to pasta is making it the star of the show. The portion of the pasta itself is way too big and the portions of protein and fiber are way too small. I like to use the plate method as a rule of thumb: Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein, and a quarter of your plate with a carbohydrate or starchy food. This will help keep your pasta portion under control.

(Here’s the other healthy pasta recipe this nutritionist loves.)

Shrimp and veggie pesto spaghetti toss

Okay, on to the exciting part – my favorite healthy spaghetti recipe. Remember when I talked about the importance of protein, healthy fats and fiber? Well, this recipe has all three, plus our beloved spaghetti. Pro tip: make extra. The leftovers are even tastier.


(For four people)

For the pesto:

1 bunch basil (about 1 cup basil leaves)

2 cups baby spinach

1/3 cup olive oil

1 avocado

2 cloves of garlic

Zest and juice of a lemon

2 tablespoons pine nuts (can use any nut you want)

2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Pinch of salt & pepper

For the paste:

8 oz spaghetti (about 2/3 of a box; can use regular or whole wheat)

16 oz shrimp (about 5 shrimp per person, depending on size)

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 medium yellow pumpkin, chopped

1 cup mushrooms, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

Pinch of salt and pepper


Prepare the pesto. Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are mixed to a uniform sizeabout 10 times. Then, with the food processor on low, slowly pour in olive oil until pesto comes together. If necessary, add warm water to thin, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Before draining, set aside 1 cup of the hot, starchy cooking water.

In a large saucepan, add olive oil and chopped vegetables. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about five minutes. When the vegetables are cooked, add the shrimp to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the shrimp until light pink, about two minutes per side.

When the shrimps are completely cooked, add the spaghetti and pesto. Mix thoroughly. If the mixture is too thick, add starchy cooking water, 1/4 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Enjoying!

The bottom line – don’t be afraid of spaghetti or pasta in general. There is nothing to be afraid of, and there is no reason to avoid it. Just be smart about what you pair it with and watch your portion sizes. This pasta with shrimp and vegetable pesto is the perfect recipe to try.

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