Vegetables have it rough in America, always second-rate sideshows to the proteins and carbs of the food world. I don’t really blame most people for having this view; after all, any food that’s more of an obligatory afterthought, zapped in the microwave or boiled into oblivion, is doomed from the start.
So a few years back when I first learned of people using vegetables as stand-ins for pasta, my interest was piqued. Back then (you know, in the olden days of 2010), options were pretty limited. Beyond boxes of dried veggie pastas (white flour dyed with vegetable purees to appear healthy), there were a few fresh vegetables making names for themselves. Spaghetti squash, which separates into noodle-like strands once cooked, was and continues to be promising; and zucchini had been used for years as a stand-in for lasagna noodles with the help of a mandoline or humble chef’s knife.
Fast forward several years and anyone who has ever been on Pinterest has probably encountered some form of this “spiralized” veggie noodle phenomenon. And lest you think zucchini gets to have all the fun, these spiralizer kitchen tools can turn many-a-veg into a pasta look-alike. According to the Inspiralized website, any non-hollow, unseeded vegetable at least 1.5 inches in diameter with firm, solid flesh is ripe for the spiralizing.
So what’s this dietitian’s take on the latest veggie trend?
People all over are eating more vegetables, and they’re actually excited about it! Can anything be more over-the-top amazing than that? I almost want to end my article right here and now, because really, oh my goodness, people all over are eating more vegetables and getting excited about it. It’s like a dietitian’s dream come true.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to eat more fiber, and vegetables are packed with the stuff. To meet recommendations, it’s ideal to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. That can be really challenging for a lot of people though, especially for anyone coming from a meat and potatoes-type upbringing. (Been there.) When we prepare vegetables like pasta, the portion size automatically grows and suddenly our plates effortlessly shift from being meat and carbohydrate dominant to really highlighting those veggies.
A plate full of vegetables is not only healthy for us, but it’s also healthy for the planet. Consuming a more plant-based diet is one of the top recommendations for reducing your carbon footprint.
I also love that vegetable spiralizers can be tools to reduce food waste by encouraging the use of what we typically consider vegetable scraps, such as broccoli stalks. This helps make the most out of your grocery budget while, again, contributing to the sustainability of the planet.
I have only two bones to pick with the spiralizing trend.
First: the equipment. A spiralizer can be a very useful tool in the kitchen if you make the commitment to use it regularly and creatively, or it can just take up space. It’s far from the most frivolous kitchen gadget I have ever seen, but the really good models aren’t compact enough to make the purchase a definite no-brainer. (And the more compact ones are a total pain to clean; seriously, I stopped using mine because I got so fed up with it.)
Second: If we treat non-starchy veggies like pasta, we drastically reduce our carbohydrate and calorie intake. Vegetables can be very filling in the short term, but it’s the trifecta of fiber-rich carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, and protein that contribute to long-term satiety. (That means you might get munchy after your spiralized meal.)
THE BOTTOM LINE: FIT OR FLOP?
FIT! Of course, I love a trend that gets people jazzed about veggies! Before you go out and buy a gadget of your own, though, do a little research or even seek out a restaurant that serves vegetables this way (more and more do) to figure out if it’s right for you.
If you do start spiralizing, don’t do away with carbs altogether. Spiralize starchy vegetables or even certain fruits; use non-starchy vegetables to make smaller pasta portions more satisfying; or pair an otherwise veggie-centric meal with alternative forms of carbohydrates, such as whole grain pilaf, beans, or a hearty loaf of bread. Your brain will thank you.
There really are so many possibilities for spiralized vegetables. Could they be the key to turning you from a veggie skeptic into a veggie enthusiast?
It’s very possible.