If you’re like me on a Monday, and get let out of your Physical Chemistry lecture around 11:30 am with a grumbling stomach and a head swirling with questions on why you ever chose your difficult major, you probably know what it’s like to encounter the mad rush that happens at on-campus places to buy lunch. Do yourself a favor and use the following tip to beat the dreaded Rebecca’s rush before your next class hits: avoid it entirely.

This week’s featured food is one that’s very close to my heart as an overly-zealous Italian American: pasta!

To me, there’s no food quicker to make or more affordable than pasta. It’s also great for satisfying my short-term energy needs before a workout or a class. One pound of any type is at most $4 and can provide you with adequate supply for 3-4 meals, depending on your portion sizes and what else you pair it with. And I don’t even have to go into the taste; I mean, it’s pasta.

As a primarily carbohydrate-based food, however, pasta gets a bad rep in the healthy eating community. This is mostly due to our societal fear of eating too many carbs. This fear is quite understandable, given the well-established links between a diet abundant with foods of a high glycemic load, like enriched (“white”) pasta, and the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. But there are other factors that come into play when considering the impact of pasta on blood glucose levels, the first of which is what type of pasta you are eating.

Pasta can be separated into two types, whole grain/whole wheat and enriched. The difference between the two is the amount of processing underwent by the wheat germ used to make pasta, so the same comparisons that you would make for the different types of bread could be applied to pasta as well. Whole grain pasta is made from unadulterated wheat kernels, preserving the fiber and micronutrients of the plant, while enriched pasta is made through stripping away shell and inner germ of the grains to leave just the starchy endosperm.

The removal of the tougher parts of the kernel produces a product that is less chewy and milder in flavor, but the enriched pasta is going to have half the fiber as a result. It’s the fiber that plays a key role in how carbohydrates are digested, and this can be seen when you compare the glycemic loads of the whole grain (GL=15/cup) and enriched (GL=23/cup) pasta types. Measuring the glycemic load of a food takes into account both the amount of carbs in a food and its impact on blood-glucose levels, where 0-10 is low, 11-20 is medium, and 20-30 is high.

It’s not surprising, then, that the pasta type with less fiber has a higher score, because it can be digested more rapidly into glucose by the body.

This doesn’t mean that we should vilify the enriched product, however. It has its uses! If I was to run a half marathon later today (thank God that isn’t the case), I would choose the enriched pasta because it delivers a larger amount of glucose to the muscles for energy storage; it’s all about the circumstances. Foods aren’t either all bad or all good! Including pasta.

There is also a middle ground that exists for those who dislike the chewy nature of the whole grain pasta but want to get more fiber in their diet in the form of whole wheat/enriched blends. Read the nutrition labels on pasta carefully to make sure that you are buying the wheat blend that you intend to buy.

The second factor that plays a role in how pasta affects you is, frankly, how much of it you actually eat. Overconsumption of any carb-heavy food is not nutritionally sound (unless you lead a very active lifestyle), so the best way to avoid that is to load up your pasta with vegetables and protein sources to give your meals more balance.

Here are a few easy recipe ideas that get away from the conventional marinara and Alfredo sauces and incorporate more healthy ingredients.