What’s your favorite shape of pasta? Are you more of a penne fan or a linguini lover? Spaghetti is the most popular and best-known pasta shape among Americans, USA TODAY found. And though we typically associate pasta with Italian dishes, the U.S. consumes almost twice the amount of pasta Italy does, according to data from the International Pasta Organization survey.
The world of pasta is much wider than a variety of shapes – your options now include alternatives that ditch flour altogether in favor of plants or come with added protein. Here’s what to know about the nutritional profiles of each.
What is the healthiest pasta?
Any kind of pasta can fit into a healthy diet, says registered dietitian Jamie Nadeau, and it depends on your preference for shape and kind.
But she says the healthiest pasta when it comes to nutrition is chickpea pasta – a protein-packed, fiber-rich legume alternative popularized in the last decade.
Take two pasta products from the same company – chickpea pasta contains 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per 2-ounce serving. A same-size serving of regular pasta contains 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Whole grain pasta is another top pick from Nadeau with 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber in a 2-ounce serving.
Traditional pasta and sauce meals may not contain protein, so chickpea pasta, or any of its plant-based counterparts (lentil, black bean and more), can make your meal more balanced.
“There’s lots of people who are looking for or maybe don’t want to add a protein source to their pasta, so using something like a chickpea pasta is a great option because it covers you for carbohydrates, for fiber and for protein,” Nadeau says.
Adding more fiber to your diet is never a bad idea – research presented at the 2021 American Society for Nutrition conference found fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults meet their daily fiber recommendations. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 28 grams of fiber per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
“When it comes to pasta, I want to look (for) fiber because we know that high-fiber carbohydrates help you digest your foods slower and they help to stabilize your blood sugar better,” Nadeau says.
Chickpea pasta also has more of a “neutral” flavor than other legume pastas, making it the “easiest to work into meals,” Nadeau says. She recommends pairing it with a flavorful sauce you enjoy when trying for the first time.
But it’s a slightly different taste from traditional pasta, so it may not be for everyone. Nadeau recommends experimenting with different brands if you don’t find a winner on your first try.
What foods are high in fiber?: Look to these sources to get enough
Is pasta healthy?
Pasta gets a bad rap because it’s high in carbohydrates – you’re not getting much else when you eat it. But carbs are an important part of a healthy diet just like the other two macronutrients (protein and fat) are.
“There are lots of foods that have just carbohydrates or mostly carbohydrates. It’s not a unique food, but it does have a unique reputation,” Nadeau says.
The World Health Organization recommends carbohydrate intake primarily come from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. While whole grain pasta gets you within that recommendation, regular pasta can also be a part of a balanced diet because it’s eaten alongside other foods.
The three macronutrients work better on their own than they do apart, Nadeau says. With a pasta dish, you’ve got the carbs covered, but she recommends asking: “What can I add?” Make the meal more balanced by adding protein and healthy fats to the plate. Fiber is important too, and you can find it in vegetables, lentils or other sources.
“With all of the diet culture that we’ve all been exposed to for so many years, it can be hard to get a handle on what that balance looks like,” she says.
Is whole grain pasta healthy?
Yes, whole grain pasta is chock full of vitamins and minerals – more so than regular pasta. Regular pasta is made of refined flour while whole grain pasta is made of whole grain flour. The difference is in the grain kernel itself.
A grain kernel comprises three parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm. The germ and the bran have most of the grain’s B vitamins, fiber and protein but are stripped in the refinement process. White flour uses just the endosperm to give it a finer texture and longer shelf life, but you lose some nutrients in the process.
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