Better Choices: Zucchini Ribbons vs. Pasta

We hear a lot about the evils of carbs lately. Carbohydrates are not evil, but they come in many shapes, sizes and forms. Pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, etc) and zucchini are both forms of carbohydrates, but have very different nutritional profiles. Most pastas are highly processed and cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, while zucchini does just the opposite. 

A Brief Explanation of Carbohydrates 

Since there is so much confusion surrounding carbohydrates (one of the three macronutrients, the other two being protein and fat), let’s do a quick breakdown of the different types of carbohydrate, and a brief explanation of their differences. 

Starches

Long chains of molecules that take a longer time (than sugar) to be broken down by the digestive system. Another common name for these are complex carbohydrates, and some foods that fit into this category are whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squashes.  

Sugars

Shorter chains of molecules or even singular molecules that are rapidly broken down by the digestive system, therefore leading to quick spikes in blood sugar. Examples of sugars include fructose, glucose, sucrose and galactose (along with artificially made sugars, which is also a long list). You can also think of these as simple carbohydrates, which are largely stripped of their fiber and nutrient content during processing.  

Fiber

A type of carbohydrate that does not get digested by the body, and is essential regular elimination and digestion. In fact, fiber provides many benefits and is critical to our health, veggies being the best source.  

Keep Pasta to an Occasional Treat 

Nobody’s going to argue that pasta isn’t delicious, but most pastas are made from white flour and fit into the “simple carbohydrate” category. Those made with whole wheat or other types of whole grain flour are better, but still should be kept to an occasional treat. 

Simple carbohydrates are largely made up of empty calories—meaning they provide calories but offer very few (or no) nutrients. They have been linked with overeating and obesity, among many other health detriments. Complex carbs, on the other hand, do offer nutrients, especially those that come in the form of vegetables and fruits.  

Enter the humble zucchini.  

Health Benefits of Zucchini 

Zucchini is a type of summer squash, and is a relatively low-carbohydrate food that makes a surprisingly perfect alternative to pasta. Check out some of the following health benefits: 

Rich in Antioxidants 

Zucchini and other summer squashes are well known for their impressive antioxidant profile, especially vitamin C and manganese. A diet rich in antioxidants in key in preventing excessive damage by free radicals, which is linked with a myriad of diseases. 

Blood Sugar Balancing 

Unlike simple carbohydrates, zucchini works to achieve and maintain stable blood sugar levels. First of all, zucchini contains B vitamins that help to metabolize sugars, and also offers zinc and magnesium, two other minerals that play a role in blood sugar management.  

Anti-Inflammatory 

Like most vegetables (especially green vegetables), zucchini is a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet—again, the opposite of most pastas. While more research is needed, some health experts believe that some of the anti-inflammatory benefits from summer squash is due to the fact that their seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are shown to decrease chronic inflammation.  

Naturally Anti-Microbial 

Interestingly, summer squash seeds have been used in traditional medicine  throughout history due to their seeds supposedly containing anti-microbial and anti-parasitic properties. While it might take larger, more therapeutic dosages of dried seeds, including them regularly in your diet certainly can’t hurt. 

How to Make Zucchini Ribbons 

If you have a kitchen tool called a mandoline, making zucchini noodles is quick and easy (kind of like grating cheese). If not, you can still turn zucchini into a healthy pasta alternative by using a vegetable peeler. Simply start “peeling” your zucchini into long strands, and stack them together in preparation for whichever recipe you’d like to use. This simple, Asian-inspired zucchini noodle recipe is a great place to start! 

Zucchini Noodles Recipe

Ingredients: 

  • 2 large or 3 small zucchinis, made into “noodles” 
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free tamari sauce of coconut aminos (here, or you can use basic tamari sauce, found in the Asian section of your local supermarket) 
  • 1 tsp sriracha or other hot sauce of your choice 
  • 1 tbsp raw honey or grade B pure maple syrup 
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (olive or coconut oils work, too) 
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 

Instructions: 

  1. In a bowl, mix or whisk together your tamari sauce, hot sauce and honey. 
  2. In a skillet, heat your oil and add garlic and onions, stirring frequently for a few minutes or until the onions are soft.  
  3. Add the sauce you prepared to the skillet and allow it to cook with the onions/garlic for about 1 minute, then add in your zucchini noodles.  
  4. Cook everything together for another couple minutes and serve!