A lot of people don’t know this, but the way a food is cooked has a lot to do with the impact it has on your blood sugar (also known as the glycemic index or glycemic load). Well-done, wet-noodle type pasta not only tastes like cardboard, it also affects your blood sugar in a far more negative way than pasta al dente, which is actually the proper way to make pasta anyway. Why? Because overcooking destroys fiber and turns perfectly good food into mush that doesn’t have to be broken down by the body.
When a food is high in carbs—as pasta is—overcooking can cause a much more dramatic impact on your blood sugar. This tender pasta cooks up in seconds—all it really needs is a hot bath—and the carb load is offset by the protein and healthy fat in the fresh chèvre, significantly reducing the impact of this delicious dish on your blood sugar. Bonus nutrition points for the antioxidant lycopene in the tomatoes, and the iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber in the spinach!
Featured Ingredient: Lemons
Lemons are usually thought of as a garnish—lovely for decoration or to spritz up a glass of water, but not taken seriously as a nutrient-dense food. But that perception is starting to change.
Most of us know that lemons, like other citrus fruits, are a great source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. For that reason alone, lemons would be a healthy fruit. But lemons also have been found to have two other compounds—a group of chemicals called limonoids, and specifically, a compound called limonene—both of which have documented anti-cancer properties. Limonene is found in the peel and has been shown in studies to be chemopreventive against mammary, liver, lung, and UV-induced skin cancer, and chemotherapeutic against mammary and pancreatic tumors. A study from the University of Arizona concluded that when citrus peel is consumed with hot black tea, the risk of skin cancer is reduced by 30 percent. (Amazing how these traditional combinations—tea and lemon, for example—keep being validated by science, isn’t it?)
And it doesn’t take much limonene to get the value. According to researchers, consuming 1 tablespoon a week of the grated peel is all you really need to make a significant difference. Full disclosure: I’m an avid juicer. I use both lemons and limes (depending on the recipe) in all my juices, and I wouldn’t think of using them without including the peel! It adds texture and richness of flavor as well as a cornucopia of plant chemicals.
Lemons have also been used in folk remedies for as long as anyone can remember. Back when I was a musician in New York, I remember all the singers drinking hot water and lemon for their throats. My good friend Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, has long used hot water and lemon as a staple in her dietary programs, largely for its positive effects on the liver, bile, and digestion. And according to naturopathic physician Andrew Rubman, ND, drinking just half a lemon of juice daily raises the level of citrate in the body, which may help in fighting kidney stones. (Note: Other citrus juices do not have this effect. In fact, grapefruit juice has the opposite effect and should be avoided if you’re prone to kidney stones.)
Mix it Up
There are two basic types of lemons—acidic and sweet. While the acidic types, Eureka and Lisbons, are the most widely available, the sweet types are becoming increasingly more available, though they’re used primarily as ornamental fruit. There’s also a seasonal lemon known as a Meyer lemon that lots of people love. It’s moderately acidic, but it doesn’t have nearly the sour “kick” of regular lemons. In fact it’s sweet. Meyer lemons are believed to be a cross between regular lemons and mandarin oranges. They generally show up in stores between December and May.
Notes from the Clean Food Coach:
Choose a high-protein or whole-grain pasta for the best nutrient punch. We like Banza shells for this recipe. For a simpler, richer dish, substitute a few tablespoons of organic pesto for the fresh spinach and basil.
- Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. While pasta is cooking, heat oil and garlic over medium heat in large sauté pan for 1 minute.
- Add summer squash, and cover pan. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until squash is fork tender. Fold in spinach, artichoke hearts, if using, and sundried tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, cover, and cook 1–3 minutes, until spinach is wilted and everything is hot and moist.
- In large bowl, combine pasta and vegetables. Crumble chèvre into mixture, add basil and lemon juice, and gently fold everything in until well-combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve warm or chilled.