Some of Toronto's up-and-coming chefs have unveiled new, creative ways to eat pasta in the morning, combined with breakfast-friendly ingredients, such as eggs, smoked salmon, yogurt, cheese, vegetables and nuts. These do not include cold pizza or last night's pasta dish reheated in the microwave, but something fresh and inviting for the first meal of the day with your caffeine of choice. Espresso, perhaps?
The chefs are students at Toronto's acclaimed George Brown Chef School, post-diploma Italian program, hence getting hands-on with Italy's favorite comfort food, pasta. Participating in an Iron Chef-type culinary challenge, eight finalists battled it out over who could make the tastiest, healthiest and most creative pasta for breakfast dish. The event was sponsored by Catelli Healthy Harvest, an established brand of whole grain pasta.
"Pasta isn't typically associated with breakfast and the students had to make the dishes as tasty as possible using only healthy ingredients," executive chef John Higgins, director of the George Brown Chef School, explains. That means fettuccine alfredo made with high-fat cream would not make the cut.
A serving of whole-grain pasta, surely, would be more nutritionally sound than sugar-coated cereal flakes. Leslie-Anne Weeks of Toronto took home the first prize: a full scholarship to George Brown Chef School. She prepared a spaghettini dish with spicy tomatoes, sautéed garlic spinach, basil yogurt sauce and soft poached egg. One contender whipped up a notable breakfast egg burrito with rolled lasagna noodles.
"I didn't have a lot of experience working with whole grain pasta and was surprised that it worked as well in the recipe as regular pasta, and in fact added a nice texture to the dish," Weeks says. "The challenge was a very good exercise in that it forced all the finalists to think outside the box when it comes to creating dishes that include healthy ingredients and limited amounts of oils and salts."
Liz Pearson, leading Canadian dietitian and best-selling author, who moderated the event, says that eating whole grain pasta provides essential nutrients, such as fiber, calcium, selenium, potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamins K and E. She points to a Cornell University study which found that more than 80 percent of disease-fighting antioxidants are found in the bran or germ part of the whole grain, which is removed in refined grains. "Whole grains have an antioxidant content that rivals or exceeds that of fruits and vegetables, and contain as much as double the calcium and selenium, four times more fiber, potassium and zinc, six times more magnesium and vitamin K, and 14 times more vitamin E than refined grains," she explains.
Scientific studies link eating more whole grains to a reduced waistline, she adds, pointing to a recent Penn State study of 50 obese adults on a calorie-reduced diet, half of whom ate only whole grains while the other half ate only refined grains over a 12-week period.
The whole grain eaters saw a significantly greater decrease in abdominal fat. A separate review of 15 studies by two United Kingdom researchers found that people who eat at least three servings of whole grains each day are more likely to have a lower body weight and less belly fat, Pearson says. "A half-cup serving of whole grain pasta is equal in size and nutrition to one piece of whole grain toast, so why not add some variety and fun to breakfast by eating whole grain pasta?" she suggests.
Research also suggests that the regular consumption of whole grains translates into lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Waking up to pasta may not be mainstream, but it certainly can benefit your health more than a bowl of refined sugar-coated cereal.
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