I know I’m not the only one who scarfs down mac and cheese when no one is looking. Some for Lane, some for Drew, oh, and look, there’s a little left over for me. Which leads me to two questions: First, how on earth can something so delicious be so bad? And second, am I the only one who thinks pasta is confusing?

After taking a class from Harvard (not kidding) and hours of internet research, I think I’ve made my peace with pasta.

Here are noodles of info to help you maneuver through your own pasta questions:

Basic wheat anatomy

Like a person, wheat has anatomy. The outer coating is the bran and is full of fiber. The germ portion and is full of vitamins and minerals. And the endosperm is packed with protein and carbohydrates (www.greatist.com/eat/best-healthy-bread). Wheat is milled to separate these body parts and then recombine them in a variety of ways to create an array of flours.

Now, gluten

All wheat produces gluten, which is basically a form of plant storage protein. Other products that have gluten are barley and rye plants. These three forms of gluten can trigger an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease in some people (www.celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/what-is-celiac-disease).

Finally, semolina flour

Semolina is manufactured by coarsely grinding the endosperm of a type of hard spring wheat known as durum (www.ndwheat.com/buyers/default.asp?ID=294). Semolina flour is considered a high-gluten product. Durum wheat is a tough grain semolina flour is often made from and is hard and granular. While it is not good to use to bake bread, it is commonly used to make a variety of pastas like couscous, spaghetti, and macaroni. When people with celiac disease eat semolina flour their body thinks it is a foreign body and launches an attack on the villa in the gut (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intestinal_villus). This damages the villa and intestinal lining and makes it not only hard for people to absorb nutrients but also allows toxins to leak into the body and cause problems with skin and bones (www.authoritynutrition.com/6-ways-wheat-can-destroy-your-health). The good news: Only about 1 percent of the population has celiac disease. The bad news: There is mounting evidence that many people have “gluten sensitivity” which can cause similar symptoms such as fatigue, bloating and stool inconsistencies. (www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures).

So, should you eat gluten?

Maybe, maybe not. If you have Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity (GS) or a wheat allergy, then no (www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-people-shouldnt-eat-gluten-free). Everyone else, you should eat whole grains in moderation because the fiber is good for you (www.healthline.com/health/allergies/gluten-allergy-symptoms?s_con_rec=false&r=0#whentoseeadoctor5). Remember, whole grains have the endosperm, bran and germ. All of it.

If you chose to eliminate gluten, flour made from any type of rice is a good gluten-free alternative to semolina flour. Other options include potato, buckwheat, sorghum, bean and quinoa flours.

If you have decided to eat gluten, and if you are anything like my boys and you can eat a large bowl of noodles with a side of bread no problem, then congratulations. However, this does not give us a free pass on the mac and cheese.

We have to have a small talk about the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a value assigned to food that tells us how quickly our blood sugar will rise after eating it (www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods). Those moments after lunch when you either need a nap or a coffee are likely because you ate higher glycemic food for lunch. If you are runner, high glycemic food can help you recover or prepare for a race. However, for everyone else, we want food lower on the glycemic index so the sugar in our blood is released nice and slow for a more even feeling. Rapid release of blood sugar from eating higher glycemic index foods can result in increase fat storage, weight gain, increase risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome (www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2014/03/17/benefits-of-a-low-glycemic-approach-to-eating/#5945ba8e6fa3). You don’t want any of that, do you?

In general, pasta and bread have a high glycemic index. Whole wheat, corn tortillas, and oats have a lower glycemic index. If you are going to enjoy pasta and bread, enjoy sparingly and attempt to eat food that retained all of it’s anatomy like 100 percent whole wheat, corn and oats. Another idea is to cook spaghetti squash and replace your pasta with a vegetable.

At my house, we cook pasta and we eat a little bread, just not too much and mostly wheat. Overall, pasta is fun, easy, and quick. As a working mother, I would be lost without it.

If you want a delicious sauce for your whole wheat pasta or spaghetti squash, try this cauliflower alfredo sauce. My buddy Sam was literally licking it from the pan by the end of the night.

Amy Surdam, FNP, has served in the WYARNG as a provider for the last 15 years and is an owner of Stitches Acute Care Center with her husband, Dan Surdam, MD. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, fitness and creating a better tomorrow.

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