Chew on This: Use Your (Pasta) Noodle
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Chew on This: Use Your (Pasta) Noodle

If you come to a fork in the rotini, grab it. Pasta is a complex carb that provides long-lasting fuel for your body and helps your brain produce mood-boosting serotonin (there's a reason it's called comfort food). Plus -- surprise! -- a single serving has more protein than an egg.

Pick a Pasta

All pasta has about 200 calories per serving. Here's how the different varieties stack up otherwise.

Whole wheat: With six grams of fiber, this is your best bet in the fill-you-up department. It also counts toward the three or more servings of whole grains you should eat daily.

Spinach: Choose this if you love the barely there leafy-green flavor or cool color, not because you think it's healthier; the little bit of spinach it contains adds vitamin K but doesn't significantly bump up the amount of other vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa: Though quinoa flour is usually the second ingredient after corn or rice flour, this still packs more fiber -- about four grams -- than most other gluten-free pasta options do.

Enriched: Similar in taste and texture to regular white (or "durum semolina") pasta, this kind has more nutritional oomph, courtesy of added calcium, fiber, protein, and sometimes even omega-3s.

Less Is More

Al dente doesn't just taste better; it's also better for you. "When you eat pasta that has been cooked only until it's barely tender, it takes longer for your body to break it down, which means your blood sugar rises slowly rather than spiking," says Rachel Beller, RD. the author of Eat to Lose, Eat to Win. Go with the minimum amount of time recommended on the back of the box for a more satisfying bite and a steadier energy level.

Pump Up the Volume

One cup of cooked pasta can look puny all alone on a plate. Make it a meal with these smart suggestions from Tessa Stamper, RD, the executive chef at Noodles & Company.

1. Stir together cooked fusilli, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and a half-and-half mixture of beaten eggs and egg whites to make a frittata.

2. Cook half your usual amount of spaghetti, then make up the difference with sauteed kale and toss the two together with pesto.

3. Combine cold cooked penne with salsa, cilantro, crumbled cotija cheese, and lime juice for a pasta-and-taco salad mash-up.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2014.