This easy, healthy Italian pasta salad recipe bursts with flavor with less sodium and cholesterol than comparable recipes.
Recipe Makeover for Heart-Healthy Meals
Since the start of this year, I’ve made a considerable effort to plan and cook more heart-healthy meals for our family. At the urging of our family doctor, this means following a nutritarian diet (more about this in another post) packed with plant-based meals and significantly reducing cholesterol and sodium intake.
You may wonder, “Why bother?” Or, like us, think, “Well, I already eat a very healthy diet, so why should I limit my cholesterol and sodium intake?’
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day in the adult diet. That sounds reasonable. After all, if you don’t add salt to meals, or if you do not eat out, you should be well under this limit, right?
WRONG! We’ve tracked the sodium in our meals and were absolutely shocked at how everyday foods, even frozen vegetables, contain extra sodium.
Naturally-occuring sodium in plants cannot be avoided, but to find sodium hidden in many everyday food like bread, milk, and simple pantry items came as a shock. We’re currently tracking our menu makeovers and I plan to share them here so that you can see how we’ve changed our common, home-cooked meals, like spaghetti and meatballs (a weekly menu favorite) to low salt, heart-healthy menus.
That’s how this recipe for Italian pasta salad came about…it was part of my weekly experimentation to find low salt, low cholesterol meals and dishes the whole family can enjoy.
Easy Healthy Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
The secret to this easy, healthy Italian pasta salad recipe becoming a low-salt and low-cholesterol favorite is in the dressing itself and limiting the amount of olive used in the recipe.
The original Italian pasta salad recipe called for:
- Rotini pasta
- Cherry tomatoes
- Black olives
- Fresh basil
- Feta cheese
- Dressing made from mayonnaise and vinegar
- Salt and pepper
My swaps lowered the cholesterol to just 5 milligrams per large 2 cup serving and the salt to 150 milligrams per serving.
Eliminate the Worst Offenders First
When you’re trying to change your diet and lower sodium and cholesterol intake, the easiest thing to do is to eliminate the worst food offenders first. In this recipe, the feta had to go.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Feta packs flavor into every bite. Unfortunately, it’s also a highly salted cheese, and it added too much sodium to the basic recipe. We didn’t miss it in the revised recipe although I added it to my plate. My husband had chicken with his dinner and I ate a vegeterian meal that included feta in the salad but omitted the chicken drumsticks.
Mayonnaise can be good or bad, depending on what you choose. Southerners love their Duke’s mayo and northerners their Hellman’s mayonnaise. These are delicious but cholesterol-packed dressings thanks to the eggs used in traditional mayo.
A good substitute is olive-oil mayonnaise from Hellmans. I used just one tablespoon, mixed with another tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to give the dressing lots of taste with less cholesterol and salt.
Eliminating Salt from Recipes
Recipes such as this one make it easy to eliminate or substitute the salt. Since it is not essential to the ingredients but used to season and add flavor, I substituted Mrs. Dash, a seasoning blend, for salt. It added excellent flavor to the salad while avoiding the salt!
Italian pasta salad recipe
- 8 ounces Rotini pasta
- 2 cups Cherry tomatoes Washed, halved, stems removed
- 10 olives Pitted black olives Slice in half
- 1 tablespoon Fresh basil leaves Chop
- 1 tablespoon Hellman’s olive oil mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar Use more to taste
- 1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash seasoning
- 1/2 small onion Small onion Diced
- 2 cloves Garlic Diced
- Boil a pot of water and cook rotini according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
- Slice the cherry tomatoes and olives in half and add to the pasta.
- Peel and dice onion and garlic. Add to the pasta.
- Mix mayo, olive oil, and vinegar in a bowl, whisking it together. Pour over the pasta and mix. Add Mrs. Dash seasoning and mix.
- Clean the basil leaves and remove from the stem. Roll them into a log, then slice the log into small sections. This creates pretty ribbons of basil. Add to the pasta and mix it together.
- Pour the mixed pasta into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least an hour to chill and marinade the flavors. Keep refrigerated and refrigerate any leftovers.
Love Pasta? Find More Recipes Here
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.