Upgrading a Traditional Pasta Salad With 4 Healthy Ingredients

Most people assume pasta salad is unhealthy and, depending on the ingredients; they aren't wrong. The average pasta salad contains loads of carbohydrates and fats.

For people trying to lose weight or eat a heart-healthy and carb-friendly diet, pasta salad seems like an obvious no-go — unless you make a few healthy changes. Swapping out standard white pasta for whole grain pasta is one healthy alternative, as is using an oil substitute like avocado or applesauce. Besides swapping the two primary ingredients for healthier options, you can include additional items to increase the nutritional value.

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, but that is not the only thing that makes them unique. The bright red food contains lycopene, which produces its color and supports the immune system.

Lycopene-rich foods reduce your risk of certain cancers and diseases. The substance helps the body, in part, by fighting free radicals that can damage cells. Lycopene may also reduce levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

2. Bell Peppers

Like tomatoes, bell peppers are nutritionally rich. While the peppers contain many vitamins and antioxidants, the level of vitamin C and various carotenoids make the food exceptionally healthy.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is essential to several bodily functions, including wound healing, collagen production, iron absorption, immune system performance, and the maintenance of teeth, bones, and cartilage. One bell pepper contains 169% of your recommended daily intake.

Carotenoids are the compounds that give bell peppers their vibrant colors. They also act as antioxidants in humans. Bell peppers contain several carotenoids, including:

  • Capsanthin (red bell peppers)
  • Violaxanthin (yellow bell peppers)
  • Lutein (green bell peppers)

3. Arugula

As a cruciferous vegetable, arugula is a dark leafy green similar to kale or cabbage. The flavor profile is spicy and bitter and only gets stronger with age. It can be the perfect addition to a pasta salad, especially if lacking a little kick.

The vegetable is a rich source of antioxidants, but what makes it unique is glucosinolate and vitamin K. Glucosinolate causes the potent scent and bitter taste of the plant; it also can reduce the risks and protect against certain cancers.

Vitamin K is essential for bone building and blood clotting. People who consume enough of the nutrient can reduce their risk of osteoporosis. One cup of arugula provides nearly 22 mcg of the 80 mcg daily recommended requirement.

4. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are an excellent protein source because they are a complete protein: they contain all nine essential amino acids, the keys to proper bodily function. Also, the legume contains several vital nutrients and a generous amount of fiber.

Choline, an organic, water-soluble compound, is present in chickpeas. The compound is unique because it contributes to a healthy brain and functioning nervous system.

Aside from being a vegetarian and vegan-friendly protein, chickpeas promote weight control and cardiovascular health, control blood sugar spikes, and maintain gastrointestinal health. The legumes also provide a lovely texture and subtle flavor to pasta salad.

Pasta salad is traditionally unhealthy, loaded with carbs and "bad" fats. However, you can alter the conventional perception of the dish by upgrading, eliminating, and adding certain ingredients. Using whole grain pasta and healthy fat as a foundation, you can add tomatoes, bell peppers, arugula, and chickpeas to the salad for flavor and crunch. The upgraded salad will be much healthier than the pasta salads you're used to.

4 Key Skin Benefits of Dietary Vitamin C

If you're like me, you see vitamin C all over the ingredient lists of your favorite skin care products. If this nutrient can give you such an incredible glow through topical application, can consuming foods rich in vitamin C give the skin a similar boost? I reviewed the research to give you the scoop on whether a diet emphasizing citrus and other sources of C can revitalize your complexion.

Skin Benefits of Consuming Vitamin C

These are some of the key benefits of getting enough vitamin C in the foods you eat as well as in your skin care routine.

Supports Collagen Synthesis

Science shows that vitamin C supports skin health by synthesizing collagen, a natural substance that gives us a plump, supple, youthful appearance. This protein makes up most of our connective tissue and appears in muscle and tendon fibers. Collagen naturally decreases as we age, so boosting the body's production can smooth the appearance of fine lines and help blemishes heal more quickly. It's also a critical component of wound healing. When you add extra C to your diet, you may notice that your skin feels firmer and smoother than usual.

Reduces the Appearance of Wrinkles

Speaking of fine lines, studies suggest that oral vitamin C may also have a positive effect on the depth and appearance of facial wrinkles. In research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who had higher vitamin C intake and lower intake of carbs and fatty foods showed fewer signs of aging. The study authors noted improvement in age-related wrinkles, dryness and thinning.

Provides UV Protection

As an antioxidant, Vitamin C helps the body fight off the damaging effects of UV rays on the skin. Consuming this vitamin can also help sunscreen work more effectively, boosting its ability to shield your complexion from these disease-causing free radicals. Vitamin C can actually neutralize toxins and environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke and remove these harmful substances from your body, shielding your skin from damage and reducing the risk of cancer.

Decreases Hyperpigmentation

Are you distressed by dark spots and patches on the skin? These areas of hyperpigmentation, typically caused by sun damage, can become more pronounced as we age. Research published in the journal Nutrients found that vitamin C can prevent melanin production, which can in turn prevent the appearance of these so-called age spots.

How to Get Enough Vitamin C

Most adults should get at least 1,000 mg of vitamin C per day, with a recommended maximum intake of 2,000 mg daily. Some people need more vitamin C to stay healthy, including individuals who have a limited diet, have chronic health conditions, or smoke or receive exposure to secondhand smoke. You can find this nutrient in a wide variety of fruits and veggies, including oranges, grapefruits, spinach, broccoli and strawberries. You can also take over-the-counter vitamin C supplements.

Although we need more research about exactly how this nutrient can reduce the impact of aging on the skin, we do know getting enough C correlates with a clear, healthy complexion. For best results, most experts emphasize the importance of combining a diet rich in vitamin C with topical application.

In rare cases, people who don't get enough vitamin C develop a deficiency called scurvy that causes fragile skin and slow-healing wounds, along with exhaustion, joint swelling and anemia. Lack of vitamin C can also cause uncomfortable skin problems such as atopic dermatititis, characterized by an itchy rash. Talk to your health care provider if you experience unexplained skin symptoms or have difficulty consuming enough dietary vitamin C. 

Flock to Fonio for Whole-Grain Goodness

While few outside West Africa find fonio among their usual fare, this ancient grain is gaining popularity because of its exceptional health benefits. Pierre Thiam, a restaurant owner from Senegal, touted fonio as the next big alternative to quinoa and brought the grain to the menus of his Brooklyn restaurants back in 2008. Today, you might be able to pick up fonio in your neighborhood if you live near Whole Foods or are lucky enough to have a local African food market.

Africans who consume fonio frequently often consider it a celebratory meal, particularly in Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. If you're curious about this world whole-grain staple, this guide provides the knowledge you need to incorporate it into your diet.

Nutritional Content of Fonio

Half a cup of cooked fonio has just 170 calories and limited fat, salt and cholesterol. It also has 4% of your recommended daily value of both fiber and iron, as well as plenty of nutritious B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron and copper. If you need more calcium in your diet, fonio can deliver with more of this nutrient than any other grain.

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Health Benefits of Fonio

First, good news if you're gluten-free; fonio provides a safe alternative for those who can't digest wheat protein. It's also rich in amino acids and micronutrients you won't find in wheat, corn or rice. These compounds help with the growth of new skin, nail and hair cells. Your body cannot make these nutrients, so you must get them from your diet.

The B vitamin content supports the function, growth and development of the body's cells. Iron and copper build connective tissue and red blood cells while magnesium helps the body produce energy. Zinc assists with synthesizing proteins and supporting immunity.

Fonio consists of complex carbohydrates that the body digests all day long, which helps you feel full and keeps blood sugar steady. As a whole grain, it also has the proven ability to reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stomach, pancreatic and colorectal cancer. Research also associates whole-grain consumption with avoiding obesity and keeping the body's gut health in balance. 

Fonio also has a low glycemic index. That means it can help people who have diabetes control their blood sugar levels.

How to Enjoy Fonio at Home

Many describe fonio as combining the texture of quinoa with the nutty earthiness of couscous. If you're familiar with cooking grains, you're ready to cook fonio. The grain is just as versatile as its more common cousins, such as rice, farro and barley. You can use it in place of any of those choices in salads, soups and stews. It also works well in a traditional preparation as a porridge. If you can get your hands on fonio flour, you can even use it in your favorite cakes, muffins, and baked goods.

Aren't sure where to start? Use these simple steps for perfect fonio every time:

  • Boil 1 cup of salted water over high heat.
  • Stir in 1/4 cup of dry fonio and cover tightly.
  • Reduce heat to low.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes or until the grain absorbs all liquid. 
  • Remove lid and fluff with a fork. The fonio is done when it's tender yet firm, without excess moisture.

You can also look for any recipe with millet since fonio is part of the same family and offers a good one-to-one substitute. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that whole grains should make up about half of the bread and grains you eat each day, so spice up your routine by adding fonio to the mix.