In al dente pasta, the digestion process slows down and the glucose gradually crosses the intestinal barrier.
Al dente pasta is a 100% Italian invention, but in the neighboring country it was not always prepared this way. The usual thing was to boil it enough so that it was very soft. It was like that until the Neapolitansauthors of many emblematic recipes of Italian gastronomy (including pizza), decided that it was better to prepare it al dente, that is to say that it could chew a little with the teeth. The reason was purely culinary, although it’s also healthier that way.
But… why is al dente pasta healthier? And what health benefits does it actually bring? Dr. Anna Costa, nutritionist dietitian and director of the NutriClínica clinic, clarified these and other doubts in Saber Vivir, how prepared she is for what we can do if we overcook.
How is the pasta made?
Today, pasta is made from different origins, including legumes, but the most traded one continues to be refined pasta obtained from durum wheat semolina.
This semolina is essentially composed of more than 70% carbohydrates (starch) and one 12% protein (specifically two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, that form gluten).
In fact, the semolina of refined pasta includes only the inner part of the wheat, because the shell or bran has been removed (it is the insoluble ligneous fiber which surrounds the grain of wheat) and the germ (the kernel of the grain, which is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids). Whole wheat pasta contains these two parts of the wheat (the bran and the germ).
How to prepare al dente pasta
- Boil 1 liter of water for 100 or 150 g of pasta. When boiling, add the salt. Wait for the water to boil again, pour in the pasta and stir.
- If you want it just al dente, a little before finishing the cooking time indicated on the package, taste it or crush it with your fingers: if it is gelatinous on the surface but a little hard inside, it is al dente.
- in some pasta you even see a different color between the outside and the inside when you break them because the starch is still crystallized inside.
- remove from fire, Pass through a colander and cool immediately under cold running water to stop the cooking.
What happens when you eat pasta al dente?
starch in pasta is formed by crystals like those of table sugar. If we could observe them under the microscope, we would see that in reality those are long chains composed of thousands of sugars, and each link in the chain is a simple sugar.
They are very compact but when you bring the pasta to a boil it starts to fray because it traps the water molecules, the more you boil it the more water it will swell and the greater the risk that They end up turning into a kind of jelly. However, pasta cooked al dente not too hydrated still has starch crystals inside, says Dr. Costa, spokesperson for the College of Dieticians-Nutritionists of Catalonia (CoDiNuCat) and doctor of biology and food technologist.
When you eat pasta, gastric juices from the stomach they are unable to break glass which are still inside, say, an al dente boiled macaroni, and do a great job of breaking down the starch on its surface even if it’s a bit softer. All this does the digestive process slows down a lot and thereforeglucose gradually crosses the intestinal barrier and, logically, it passes slowly into the blood.
What are the health benefits of eating al dente pasta?
- Avoid blood sugar spikes. And it’s not only good for diabetics but it’s beneficial for everyone, because a diet that promotes increased blood sugar increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, says Dr. Costa, “Our body does not need glucose injections, even if it is a healthy person”.
- You eat more slowly. It is proven that foods that require chewing are eaten more slowly, but also less. The reason is that the stomach has time to release hormones that send a signal of satiety to the brain.
- Helps to lose weight. The starch crystals in al dente pasta that we cannot digest do not pass into the bloodstream as glucose, reducing caloric intake.
- Extra energy if you play sports. al dente pasta release glucose into the blood very graduallythat is why it is an excellent ally for those who practice physical activity and need extra energy.
What happens if you boil the pasta more than necessary?
Dr. Costa assures that refined pasta must be accompanied by vegetables to make up for the lack of fibre. Something even more obligatory if you boil it more than necessary.
The reason is that the vegetable creates a kind of network of fibers around this overcooked pasta It helps slow intestinal absorption.
Why is whole wheat pasta better?
The advantage of whole wheat pasta is the fiber it contains, a nutrient that already slows down the absorption of sugars.
Moreover, the integral takes longer to cook. Therefore, as Dr Costa asserts, “it is very difficult for you to overdo it and overboil it”.
The trick of storing cooked pasta in the fridge to create resistant starch
When you leave the pasta to cool in the refrigerator, it creates what is called resistant starch, i.e. new starch crystals: “It’s as if we had a shoelace in which we tied more and more knots”explains Dr. Costa.
So some good advice lower the glycemic index of pasta (the higher it is, the greater the spike in blood sugar caused by carbohydrates) is to leave it at least 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Another benefit of resistant starch is that it acts as a prebiotic in the gut since it serves as food for the good bacteria in your microbiota, which contributes to its good balance.
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