It can be hard for us pasta lovers to enjoy their favorite meals while trying to stay healthy. Since pasta is high in carbs and mainstream options have minimal nutritional benefits, pasta can have negative health effects when consumed in large amounts. Additionally, the most popular types of pasta contain gluten which can cause issues if you’re gluten-sensitive or gluten intolerant.
However, this doesn’t mean all types of pasta are bad. Despite its potential downsides, pasta can provide nutrition for our bodies when eaten in moderation. So, is pasta healthy? If so, what types? This article breaks down some different types of pasta, which are healthiest, and how pasta can be a great addition to a healthy diet when eaten in moderation.
What is Pasta Made Of?
The main factor of determining if pasta is healthy is to consider the ingredients. Pasta is often made from water and durum wheat, or sometimes eggs. It’s shaped into different noodle types and cooked in boiling water. Noodles can be made from a variety of different grains (rice, barley, buckwheat), but most are made with wheat.
When shopping for pasta, you’ll probably see quite a few different names (like tortellini, penne, fettuccine, etc.) These typically refer to the shape and, for the most part, these are made with wheat unless stated otherwise.
Many brands make refined pasta by stripping the wheat kernel of germ, bran, and removing many other nutrients. Some pasta is enriched, which means that B vitamins and iron are added back into the pasta.
Whole-grain pasta contains the entire wheat kernel, with nothing added or taken away. Although these have fiber and some extra nutrients, they’re still not very nutritious compared to how many calories you’re taking in (but they are better than refined pasta).
Whole Grain vs Refined Pasta
Whole-grain pasta tends to be higher in manganese, selenium, copper, fiber, and phosphorus (compared to refined pasta) because it contains the entire wheat kernel. On the other hand, refined pasta is often higher in iron and B vitamins because this is added back into the pasta.
Additionally, whole-grain pasta tends to be lower in overall calories and higher in fiber than refined pastas.
Fiber is essential for helping you feel full and helping food move through our gastrointestinal tract. Because whole-grain pasta contains more fiber than enriched pasta, it tends to be more effective in reducing cravings.
Scientists and researchers have consistently associated whole-grain pasta with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
However, many whole-grain pastas are made with pulverized whole-wheat flour. The process of pulverizing this flour lessens the beneficial effects of whole grains, since the grains are digested more rapidly which leads to higher blood sugar.
Pasta made from intact whole grains like oats, quinoa, or brown rice contain more health benefits than these wheat flour whole-grain pastas.
Healthier Pasta Options
In addition to the typical wheat pasta, there are quite a few pastas made from vegetables, beans, or lentils. Depending on the type, these can add more nutrients to your pasta. For example, there are many pea or lentil pastas that pack a ton of protein per serving and have even more fiber.
This is great for those following a plant-based diet, or simply for anyone who wants to add additional nutrition to their regular pasta recipe. Plus, it tastes great!
At the very least, you’ll want to pick whole grain, unrefined pasta. Refined pasta generally contains more calories and less fiber than regular, unrefined pasta. Because of these characteristics, refined pastas generally leave you feeling less full as compared to whole-grain pastas (meaning it’s a lot easier to overeat). For instance, one study found that whole-grain pasta decreased appetite while increasing fullness as compared to refined pasta.
Generally, eating refined carbs seems to have a negative effect on your health and diet, and has even been linked to increased risk of heart disease. One study with 2,042 people found that people who consumed higher amounts of refined, enriched grains often displayed characteristics like higher blood pressure, increased waist circumference, higher blood sugar, insulin resistance, and higher amounts of bad LDL cholesterol.
Overall, refined pasta is the most common type of pasta, but scientific evidence has generally linked eating refined grains with a higher risk for health issues. Based on this, it’s best to opt for whole grain or veggie-based alternatives.
Making Healthy Pasta At Home
Generally, whole-grain pasta is a better choice than refined pasta, but the veggie pastas we mentioned previously are the best.
Toppings are also an important part of making your pasta recipes healthy. Adding high-calorie cheeses and sauces to pasta can quickly make it high in calories and unhealthy depending on the type of sauce. To watch your weight, it’s better to add olive oil, herbs, veggies, and protein such as tempeh or tofu to your pasta.
Additionally, consider portion sizes. If you’re making a huge bowl of refined pasta covered in a cheesy sauce, this is definitely a meal that will lack nutrition. Instead, you could add a side salad and a bowl of soup to your meal, then reduce the size of your pasta bowl.
You can also add veggies and proteins to your pasta and find healthier sauce recipes (such as cashew-based cheeses or homemade pesto).
Bottom Line – Is Pasta Healthy?
Ultimately, we can’t give one single answer to this question. Pasta can be a great part of a healthy diet, or it can lack nutrition and be negative if you’re eating too much refined pasta. It all depends on the type of pasta you’re eating and how you prepare it.
Overall, you should watch what type of pasta you eat to ensure that you avoid some of the negative side effects associated with refined pasta. The best options are veggie-based pastas! Additionally, portion size is important as well as picking healthy toppings for your pasta—healthy fats, vegetables, and proteins are great options.