The internet is freaking out over baked feta pasta. But what do nutrition professionals think of this viral sensation?
In the age of information and misinformation, it can be challenging when new dishes start trending. Nutrition is a constant subject of health and hype, so it can quickly get confusing for consumers! A food blogger recently went viral on the social media platform TikTok for creating a cheesy dish that has many asking, “What’s the deal with feta pasta?”
Feta pasta combines the most classic elements of Greek and Italian dishes -- the Greek feta cheese and Italian influenced pasta and flavors. While eating feta pasta can have beneficial effects, the saying “moderation is key” still applies to this dish. Trending or not, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to the temptations of pasta and cheese.
How Feta Pasta Took Over TikTok
The recipe for a viral hit dish? Try the following ingredients: a tasty baked pasta dish created by Finnish food artist Jenni Hayrinen, a couple of TikTok shares from big names like Grilled Cheese Social and Feel Good Foodie, and a relatively new national holiday.
According to her website and Instagram, Hayrinen launched National Baked Feta Pasta Day in Finland on February 4, 2020. The idea was that everybody cooks baked feta pasta together on that day. The original recipe is approaching two years old, but it’s had more than 15 minutes of fame.
Along its way to becoming a vital hit, the baked feta pasta recipe was translated from Finnish to English and became a big sensation in the States. According to Hayrinen, the feta cheese sales increased by 300% in Finland, and the post has millions of views worldwide.
Ingredients in the Internet Sensation
The namesake for this popular pasta, feta cheese has its origins in Greece. It is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which basically just means that the name “feta” is exclusive to certain cheeses made in specific areas of Greece.
Feta is a soft, white cheese that is rich in calcium. In Mediterranean cuisine, it is used in a variety of dishes -- from appetizers to dinner and even dessert.
Cheese labeled “feta” comes from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk, giving it a bit of a bite. Sheep’s milk makes for a tangy and sharp flavor profile while goat’s milk combines to make it milder. The local grass that the sheep and goats are raised on is what gives feta these unique properties.
Made in blocks and broken into crumbles as it is cut, feta cheese is firm but creamy. The following infographic contains more details about the feta-making process:
Low calorie compared to aged cheeses
High calcium and B vitamins compared to other cheeses
Contains probiotics that can promote immune health and intestinal health
Can contain 4-5 grams of protein per ounce
High amounts of sodium are added during the cheese-making process
It is higher in lactose than aged cheeses
Unpasteurized varieties can contain crop or animal contaminants
Can be more expensive than other feta varieties, such as Bulgarian
Pasta is another one of the main ingredients in this creamy dish.
Appropriate portions, at about 1 cup of cooked pasta per serving
Added at the end of the preparation, making substitutions possible and easy to do
Lower in protein than gluten-free pasta or bean-based pasta
Higher in calories and carbohydrates than alternatives like spaghetti squash
Tomatoes, when cooked, have enhanced lycopene availability. Lycopene acts as an antioxidant in the body, which means that it works to heal the body and prevent injury or illness.
Cooking causes enhanced antioxidant availability
Tomatoes are considered a nightshade and are avoided by those on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) dietary pattern
Studies show that cooking tomatoes in olive oil even further enhances the availability of the antioxidant lycopene, which is an added benefit of this baked feta dish.
The nice thing about olive oil is that you probably already have it in your kitchen! It is a healthier alternative to other non-vegetable oils. When combined with whole-wheat pasta or other whole grain alternatives, this becomes a heart-healthy plate.
Garlic is another heart-healthy ingredient, most commonly promoted for conditions affecting the blood vessels or causing high cholesterol and blood pressure. Like olive oil, garlic in its many forms is considered a kitchen staple and used regularly in many cuisines.
Promoted for heart and blood vessel conditions
A kitchen staple of many cuisines
Can increase the risk of bleeding
May interfere with the effectiveness of some medications/supplements
Side effects can include breath or body odor, heartburn, and stomach upset
To really round out the Italian influence, basil is added to the dish. Small but mighty, this herb adds a bunch of flavor. It also contributes some nutrients, such as vitamin A and vitamin C.
The Bottom Line
The popular baked feta pasta dish can be enjoyed by most. However, it should be eaten as part of a well-balanced diet, and certain ingredients should be avoided by those with lactose, gluten, or nightshade sensitivities. Feta cheese can be a healthy part of the diet for many people, but those who react negatively to high amounts of salt may want to avoid it.
As a dietitian, you can encourage clients and patients to easily make healthier swaps in this dish. Squash, bean, or lentil based pastas can quickly increase the protein of this dish. In moderation, baked feta pasta can be a delicious addition to a healthy diet.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Garlic. Nccih.nih.gov. 2021. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/garlic
Semeco A. Feta Cheese: Good or Bad. Healthline.com. Published January 4, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/feta-cheese-good-or-bad
White DA. A Dietitian Explains the Health Benefits of the Super-Popular TikToko Baked Feta Pasta. Foodnetwork.com. Published February 16, 2021. https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/news/baked-feta-pasta-tik-tok-healthy