Is lasagna a healthy meal?
In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Is lasagna a healthy meal? We will teach you how to cook a healthy version of lasagna, to eat it without remorse any time you want!
Is lasagna a healthy meal?
Lasagna is a meal high in calories that should not be consumed on a daily basis. Baked lasagna can be healthier if it is made with vegetables like spinach, eggplant, or with fish. It is finished with the healthy-type béchamel sauce and grated low-fat cheese to a gratin or melts in the oven. Its preparation and ingredients vary according to the region where it is prepared.
Diets high in fruits and vegetables are widely recommended for their health-promoting properties. Fruits and vegetables have historically held a place in dietary guidance because of their concentrations of vitamins, especially vitamins C and A; minerals, especially electrolytes; and more recently phytochemicals, especially antioxidants. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are recommended as a source of dietary fiber (4).
In a population-based cohort study in The Netherlands, higher consumption of fruit and vegetables, whether consumed raw or processed, was protective against CHD incidence. The risk of CHD incidence was 34% lower for participants with a high intake of total fruit and vegetables (>475 g/d) compared with participants with a low total fruit and vegetable consumption (<241 g/d) (4).
Homemade lasagna is considered more healthy than commercially processed ready to eat lasagne. Processed foods and drinks are implicated in the current pandemics of obesity and chronic diseases. They contain more added sugar, more saturated fat, more sodium, less fiber and much higher energy density (3).
Lasagna, from the Italian lasagna, is a type of pasta that is served in sheets, as well as being the name of the dish that contains it, which is nothing more than sheets interspersed with meat and bechamel sauce prepared in the oven. It is a food of Greek-Italian origin.
There are many variants of this dish, in the case of baked lasagna, the variants come from the content between the pasta sheets and the béchamel sauce and how both are processed healthily; in this case, you can find the so healthy vegetable lasagna, one of the most famous dishes of vegetarian gastronomy. There are variants of meat sauce where poultry meats are used, such as chicken or turkey.
Another variant to make lasagna healthier is related to replacing the bechamel sauce with a veluté made from vegetable broth or defatted chicken at home, highly recommended for the vegetable lasagna, as it is a lighter calorie and more nutritious preparation.
It can even be made with vegetables cut into thin slices such as aubergine, as a good substitute for pasta. In all varieties there is permanently low-fat cheese, gratinated on the outer surface, selecting any that can melt and gratin with some ease.
A healthier version of the Bechamel sauce
Bechamel is a rather thick sauce, whose origin is attributed to French and Italian cuisine. It is a “mother sauce”, the base of many other sauces, and the number of ingredients that can be incorporated to enrich its flavor has been increasing.
The use of skim milk is healthier and its purpose is, on the one hand, to neutralize the flavor of the hot flour and, on the other, to dilute and cook the mixture. The bechamel sauce differs from the white sauce in that the latter is not made with dairy liquids but with broths or funds.
National dietary guidelines and recommendations from professional organizations recommend that children aged > 2 years (and adults) consume low-fat (1% fat) and skim milk (0% fat) rather than whole (3.25% to 4%) or reduced-fat (2% fat) milk. The substitution of whole milk for skim milk represents a reduction of total calories and total saturated fat ingested, which may be beneficial to health (5).
The beginning of making the sauce is the mixture of a heated fatty substance to which flour is added, preferably whole wheat. From there, the amount of skim milk will depend on the final texture you want to give.
The milk must be added in sufficient quantity so that the mixture cooks and does not boil; For this it is essential that the cooking process is carried out over low heat, pouring in the milk little by little and stirring as it binds with the flour. The more milk that is added during its preparation, the more diluted the texture of the final sauce will be.
The fat used in the Mediterranean area is extra virgin olive oil. The polyphenols of olive oil are especially interesting with respect to their well-established beneficial effects on human health and metabolism, as well as the popularity of olive oil in many different diets, and specifically the Mediterranean cuisine (6). It is common to season it with nutmeg, ground pepper, and eventually with aromatic cloves. Depending on how it is used, it can be made more or less thick. Thus, when it is used to cover lasagna it is usually made lighter and more fluid.
You can also incorporate finely chopped ingredients, such as sautéed onion or all kinds of vegetables or fish. It lends itself to flavoring with varieties of spices such as curry or nutmeg.
Other FAQs about Lasagna which you may be interested in.
Should I cover the lasagna with foil while baking?
A healthier version of lasagna pasta
The flour used to make the slices is usually wheat, preferably whole wheat or mixed with bran.
Pasta consists mostly of carbohydrates (70–76%), protein (~10–14%), lipids (~1.8%), dietary fiber (~2.9%) and small amounts of minerals and vitamins. Pasta is made from either semolina (derived from durum wheat) or common wheat flour and has low amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins, essential amino acids and minerals and during milling to make semolina there is some loss of these components. The inclusion of lasagna pasta made with whole grain wheat improves the nutritional aspects of the dish. Since the bran and germ contain many biologically active compounds such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and many phytochemicals, they have been linked to reducing the risk of many lifestyle diseases (1).
The dough as a basic ingredient has the whole wheat flour mixed with water, and to which you can add an egg or other ingredients, forming a product that is generally cooked in boiling water. In its formulation, some ingredients are exchanged for others depending on the wishes or needs of the diner in relation to making their diet healthier.
The colored pastes also provide some vitamins of group B and others, since vegetables such as spinach, tomato, or carrot were used in their preparation, obtaining a green, red-orange, or light orange paste, depending on the vegetable used (2). Vegetables have been added to pasta for many years with studies showing low pasta GI with added vegetable pulps (1).
The nutritional and caloric intake also depends on the sauce accompanying the pasta. In the Mediterranean area of Europe and in healthy cooking, the use of olive oil, tomato, pepper, or fish is preferred.
For the healthy lasagna sheets you will need:
– 400 grams (one pound) of whole wheat flour or refined flour mixed in equal parts with wheat bran
– 3 whole eggs
– 1 additional egg yolk
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil, preferably extra virgin
– ½ teaspoon salt, optional
– Grated low-fat cheese
To make them:
– The whole wheat flour is placed in a large container and a hole is opened in the center. Place the eggs, a pinch of salt, and beat while adding warm water little by little, but not much.
– Once you have the dough formed, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes
– Flour the table where you are going to make the pasta, place the dough and stretch it very thin using a rolling pin or a bottle.
– Then it is cut into rectangles of an approximate measure of 12 x 8 centimeters. The rectangles are placed apart, sprinkling them with a little flour so that they do not stick.
– When all the lasagna layers have been formed, put water in a saucepan and place it on the fire until it boils.
– Dip the pasta in the water and let it cook for a few minutes. When it is al dente, separate them one by one, passing them under a stream of cold water, and then they are placed on a marble.
– When you have removed all the pasta rectangles from the saucepan, sprinkle each rectangle with a little grated cheese.
– Once the pasta has cooled you can start making lasagna with various fillings or place it in the freezer to consume it whenever you want. To freeze it, you just have to stack the layers of lasagna separating them with thin plastic foil.
In this article, we have proved to you that there is more than one way to make lasagna a healthier dish. We gave you ideas on how to make a healthier version of the bechamel sauce, but also of lasagna pasta sheets.
If you have any suggestions for a healthier lasagna recipe, please let us know!
- Sissons, Mike. Development of Novel Pasta Products with Evidence Based Impacts on Health—A Review. Foods, 2022, 11, 1.
- El-Lateef, Abd, et al. Production of enriched macaroni and pan bread using some sources of nutrients and dietary fibers. J Food Dairy Sci, 2000, 25, 6943-6956.
- Monteiro, Carlos Augusto, et al. Increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health: evidence from Brazil. Public health nutr, 2010, 14, 5-13.
- Slavin, Joanne L., and Beate Lloyd. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Adv nutr, 2012, 3, 506-516.
- Rehm, Colin D., Adam Drewnowski, and Pablo Monsivais. Potential population-level nutritional impact of replacing whole and reduced-fat milk with low-fat and skim milk among US children aged 2–19 years. J nutr educ behav, 2015, 47, 61-68.
- Gorzynik-Debicka, Monika, et al. Potential health benefits of olive oil and plant polyphenols. Int j molec sci, 2018, 19, 686.