While it’s hard to go wrong with a towering plate of spaghetti bolognese, you should start to think of pasta as a blank canvas.


Despite the low-carb craze of yesteryears and the present preachings of the Paleo crowd, pasta still remains a go-to meal for many athletes after a spirited workout. Simply put, there are few meals that do a better job at replacing spent energy reserves and satisfying a lion-sized appetite.

While it’s hard to go wrong with a towering plate of spaghetti bolognese, you should start to think of pasta as a blank canvas that is ready to welcome all sorts of ingredients to create a total taste bud party. Start with any of these nutritional superstars to make your next pasta night worthy of a resounding “Mamma Mia!”

Perfect Pasta: Made with refined flour, white pasta won’t win any nutrition awards. Instead, refuel with those made with 100% whole grains for a more nutrient-dense product that will stick with you longer. Mercifully, brands such as Barilla have flooded the market with better tasting whole wheat options. You can even find brands like Jovial supplying unique pasta made with ancient forms of wheat such as einkorn that deliver new flavor nuances. And no longer is gluten-free pasta made with power grains like quinoa and amaranth guaranteed to kill an appetite. Some offerings including TruRoots are now making truly delicious whole-grain gluten-free options.

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Smoked Mackerel

Perhaps the phrase “Holy Mackerel” is meant to express just how incredibly nutritious this swimmer is. On top of supplying a boatload of high-quality protein, when you reel-in ready-to-use smoked mackerel your active body will also benefit from notable amounts of vitamin D, vitamin B12, the antioxidant selenium and the superstar fats known as omega-3s. Not just a boon to your ticker, the omega-3 fats in richly flavored mackerel also appear to help reduce muscle soreness in response to training. You can locate fillets or whole smoked mackerel at many fishmongers. Or look for tins of sustainably harvested wild mackerel fillets from Wild Planet among other canned fish options.

Make it: Toss together penne or fusilli pasta with chunks of mackerel meat, sliced roasted red pepper, sliced scallions, chopped parsley and capers. Dress with a combination of olive oil and lemon juice and serve garnished with arugula.

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Roasted Tomatoes

Forget the red sauce from a jar, oven blasted cherry tomatoes add restaurant-worthy appeal to pasta night. In the oven, the naturally occurring sugars in tomatoes become even more concentrated turning them into sweet sensation. Incorporate a generous amount of roasted tomatoes into your plate of noodles and you’ll reap the rewards of their high amounts of immune-boosting vitamin C and the anti-cancer antioxidant known as lycopene. Plus, you’re sparred the added sugars that sneak their way into many store-bought pasta sauces.

Make it: Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss together a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, olive oil and salt. Place on a baking sheet and cook until softened and beginning to shrivel, about 12 minutes. Toss cooked spaghetti with prepared pesto and then top with roasted tomatoes and shaved Parmesan.

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Seaweed

If the only time you eat seaweed is during a trip to the local sushi joint, it’s time to get wet and wild. The various guises of sea veggies such as dulse and wakame can add a wallop of umami flavor to your noodles, not to mention plenty of nutritional perks. These include iodine for better thyroid health, unique antioxidants and special proteins that may aid in blood pressure control. Look for packages of dried seaweed from reliable companies such as Maine Coast Sea Vegetables which source their product from unfouled waters using sustainable harvesting methods.

Make it: Place dried seaweed in a bowl, cover with cold water and soak for 2 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain, squeeze out excess water and chop down to the desired size. Toss rehydrated seaweed with prepared soba or fettuccini noodles, sautéed shrimp, cooked shelled edamame, grated carrots, sliced scallions and sesame oil.

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Hemp Oil

You should start to think beyond olive oil when it comes to pasta. Made by pressing the heck out of non-GMO hemp seeds, hemp oil has a fresh, earthy taste and is rich in essential omega fatty acids. In fact, by providing a healthy ratio—roughly 4 to 1—of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3s, it’s thought that hemp oil has anti-inflammatory potential that may help improve exercise recovery and even ward off maladies such as heart disease. This verdant oil is too delicate for heating purposes, but can be used to create a lively dressing for your oodles of noodles. Look for brands such as Manitoba Harvest in health food stores and even some larger supermarkets.

Make it: Blend together hemp oil, walnuts, parsley, red wine vinegar, a clove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with spaghetti, sliced sun-dried tomatoes, roasted eggplant and marinated artichoke hearts.

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Avocado

If you want creamy pasta without the waistline repercussions, look no further than the avocado. It can be pureed into a delicious sauce for noodles that plays by the nutritional rules. Avocado supplies fiber for better hunger management along with several vital nutrients for good health and performance such as potassium, vitamin K and folate. Typical alfredo sauce won’t come close to this nutritional payload.

Make it: In a blender or food processor, puree together flesh of 1 avocado, 1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and a couple pinches salt. Add additional pasta cooking water if needed to reach a creamy consistency. Toss sauce with cooked noodles, roasted cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and chickpeas. Garnish with fresh basil.

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