Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Healthy Pasta Recipe

Pasta as Comfort Food

"On top of spaghetti!  All covered with cheese!  I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed!"

When I was a kid, I loved belting this song out at the top of my lungs.  And, not only did I love singing about spaghetti, I loved to eat it too!  My mom made it for us nearly every other weekend, so I definitely consider spaghetti to be a comfort food.  What makes spaghetti so appealing to adults and kids alike?  Perhaps its the chewy texture or the pleasing way that spaghetti sauce clings to it.  Secretly, I think it has to do with the act of slurping up the noodles, which is not only fun to do, but is purported to enhance the flavor of the noodles. 

Pasta as Cure to Diabetes?

Like other grains, you might expect pasta to be high in glycemic index.  Surprisingly, the average glycemic index of pasta is fifty, which is considered medium in glycemic index.  This is because pasta starch is absorbed at a slower rate than starch from other grains.  For example, when you boil rice, the starch granules swell and the structural matrix is disintegrated.  This process is called gelatinzation and it results in the release of sugar molecules from the starch granules, exposing them to digestive enzymes.  To read more about this, see my other post:

In contrast to rice, pasta starch granules are physically entrapped within a network of protein molecules called gluten.  Yes, gluten.  The much maligned gluten that plagues people with celiac disease is also responsible for the lower glycemic index of pasta!  When you boil pasta, the gluten impedes the gelatinization of the starch granules.  Consequently, digestive enzymes have limited access to the sugar molecules contained within the starch granules, resulting in slower digestion and absorption of pasta starch and a lower glycemic index.  

The lower glycemic index of pasta makes it a healthier alternative to other grains like processed bread.  In fact, one study found that diabetics who ate more pasta and less bread were able to lower the overall glycemic index of their diet and improve their blood sugar control! 

Pasta as Beans?

And while the average glycemic index of pasta is lower than that of most processed breads, cold breakfast cereals, and rice, the glycemic index of pasta is still not nearly as low as most vegetables and legumes.  The trick is to figure out how to get your kids to go from eating a mountain of spaghetti to a mountain of spinach or beans.  But that's impossible.  Or is it? 

Enter the mung bean noodle.  Mung bean noodles are noodles that are made from the starch of mung beans.  Mung bean noodles have the same qualities that kids love about other noodles including a chewy texture, an ability to hold sauce, and the capability of being slurped up.  Plus, because mung bean noodles are made from the starch of legumes, they have a low glycemic index.  Studies have demonstrated the glycemic index of mung bean noodles to be as low as twenty-eight!

I sang the praises of beans in a previous post: 
In that post, I mentioned that one of the advantages of beans is their high fiber content.  However, mung bean noodles are low in glycemic index even though the fiber of the mung bean has been removed.  This is because legumes are made up of significant amounts of resistant starch that are absorbed slowly.  Legumes contain 30-40% amylose and 50-70% amylopectin in their starch granules while most other starchy foods contain 25-30% amylose and 70-75% amylopectin.  I discussed how amylose is absorbed at a slower rate due to its linear structure in a previous post: 

Mung bean noodles are also called cellophane or glass noodles because of their transparent appearance.  However, mung bean noodles should not be confused with rice vermicelli noodles, which are also clear, but much higher in glycemic index.  To ensure that the noodles you are buying are indeed mung bean noodles, make sure the first ingredient on the label is mung bean starch.  Mung bean noodles are widely available at Asian grocery stores, but mainstream stores such as Whole Foods are now selling them as well. 

In the following clip, I show you a deliciously easy Korean dish which celebrates the mung bean noodle, called Japchae.  I'll bet your kids will eat a whole bowlful and not even realize they're eating beans!

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Here's the link to the dish featured in the above video:


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Buyken AE et al.  Glycemic index in the diet of european outpatients with type 1 diabetes: relations to glycated hemoglobin and serum lipids.  Am J Clin Nutr 2001;73(3):574-81.  

Englyst KN et al.  Rapidly available glucose in foods: an in vitro measurement that reflects the glycemic response.  Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:448-54.

Thorne MJ et al.  Factors affecting starch digestibility and the glycemic response with special reference to legumes.   Am J Clin Nutr 1983;38:481-488.

Wursch P et al.  Cell structure and starch nature as key determinants of the digestion rate of starch in legume.  Am J Clin Nutr 1986;43:25-29. 

Yadav BS et al.  Resistant starch content of conventionally boiled and pressure-cooked cereals, legumes and tubers.  J Food Sci Technol 2010;47(1):84-88.

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