Table of Contents
Who doesn’t love pasta? So hearty and satisfying! And pasta can be a vehicle for many heart-healthy ingredients: Vegetables, olive oil, chicken, even fish.
But pasta sauce in a jar can be ridiculously high in sodium. For example, this recipe is a simple pasta pomodoro or tomato basil pasta. A commercially produced tomato and basil sauce packs over 400 mg of sodium into a mere half-cup!
(For comparison, Canadian guidelines suggest limiting your intake to 2000 mg for the whole day, while American guidelines are even stricter at 1500 mg, particularly if you already have high blood pressure.)
But making your own topping for pasta can be easy and much lower in sodium! Read on to see.
Simple, Flavourful, Heart-Healthy Ingredients
Flavour comes from almost every ingredient, and many support heart health.
- Olive oil – Rich in monounsaturated fat, which can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, just half a tablespoon a day can lower risk for cardiovascular disease by 14%.
- Tomatoes – Can lower LDL cholesterol and inflammation, and improve arterial health.
- Basil – While not extensively studied, basil is a fresh herb, and herbs are a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet.
- Garlic – Can improve a number of measures of cardiovascular health, from cholesterol to blood pressure, triglycerides to inflammation.
- Onion – You wouldn’t expect much here, but most plant-sourced food is beneficial, and onion appears to be no different, in the few studies we have.
- Balsamic vinegar – Even balsamic vinegar may be helpful. It appears to inhibit LDL oxidation, which is a key step in atherosclerosis, the so-called clogging of the arteries.
If you’re a savvy sodium hunter, you might catch that two of the ingredients in that list are sources of sodium: chicken base and Parmesan cheese.
But worry not! This is the trick to surviving a lower-sodium diet: It doesn’t have to be no-sodium. A small amount is fine. Divide this recipe into four servings and it works out to about 185 mg sodium per serving. Even if you’re aiming for just 1500 mg in a day, that’s doable.
But measure carefully. Goodness knows it’s easy to go overboard, especially with Parmesan cheese. But thankfully, its sharp, rich taste means you don’t need a lot.
Do I need to salt the pasta water?
If sodium is a concern, I wouldn’t. But if you’re used to the flavour of salted pasta, you might want to try cutting back gradually on the amount of salt you use instead.
Either way, there’s plenty of seasoning in this dish if you want to go without salting the pasta water.
But my blood pressure is fine! I don’t need to worry about sodium
Congratulations! But a moderate-sodium diet, say 2000 mg or so a day, can help prevent high blood pressure as well. 2000 mg of sodium isn’t that hard to do, assuming most of your food is homemade.
By age 65-69 over half of Canadians have hypertension, and it goes up from there as people age. Why not try to lower your chances of developing it?
- Spaghetti – You can substitute another pasta shape if that’s what you have. But it’s so good with spaghetti or angel hair pasta! Measure the spaghetti if you can, or guestimate from the package size. You don’t want to accidentally add way too much of it.
- Chicken base (eg. Better Than Bouillon) – You can substitute one cup of low-sodium chicken broth for the chicken base and water. I just find that the Better Than Bouillon adds more zest. Make sure to get the reduced-sodium variation. The words “reduced-sodium” on the label are tiny, so bring your reading glasses!
- Fresh basil – You can substitute dried basil, but if possible, I’d try to get fresh. The sweet flavour makes a big difference. Use more if you really like it.
- Tomatoes – You don’t have to use vine-ripened, but try for something with lots of tomato flavour. Most cherry tomatoes are good for this too. And you can also add more tomatoes if you like them. This recipe is very flexible.
Speed it Up
45 minutes is a long time for dinner in my books, but that’s only the case if you prepare all of the ingredients first and then cook. That’s a nice calm way to do it, and it will leave you little chunks of time to set the table or toss a salad.
In reality, I would only chop the onion before cooking. Then I’d start the pasta, as in the directions. Then I’d get to sauteing the onion, and then chop the garlic, adding it to the pan when ready.
I’d continue on from there, prepping ingredients as I need them.
If you’re a frequent cook, you’ll probably do it that way naturally, and then it’s closer to 30 minutes. But if you don’t have as much experience in the kitchen, it probably is wise to prep all of the ingredients first and then cook. You can take some deep breaths while things are cooking, and head into dinner more relaxed.
Low-Sodium Pasta Pomodoro
- 340 grams spaghetti noodles (12 oz)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp chicken base (eg. Better than Bouillon)
- 1 cup water
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp fresh basil, torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated into generously sized pieces
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente, according to package directions. Don’t overcook, because it’s going to cook more in step 7.
Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Meanwhile, preheat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and then add the olive oil. Give it a minute or so to heat up.
Add the onions and garlic and saute until softened, about five minutes. Watch that you don’t let the garlic burn.
Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, chicken base, and water. Simmer for about 8 minutes.
Stir in black pepper and cooked pasta, tossing thoroughly to mix. Simmer for about 5 more minutes.
Add the fresh basil and stir to incorporate.
Serve, topping each dish with Parmesan.
At first the pasta will seem watery, but by the time you eat much of the water will be evaporated or absorbed.
This is not a sponsored post.
Share Your Thoughts
I always love to hear from you in our Facebook group, the Sweet Spot Heart-Healthy Cooking Club. Let me know if you made this dish, or if you have another variation you prefer. Do you have other low-sodium pasta favourites? Chime in!