Are pastas that are made from lentils, chickpeas, and other grains healthier than regular pasta?
If you’ve spent time in the pasta aisle lately, you’ve probably noticed the influx of new product choices. Gone are the days of simply choosing a pasta by your favorite shape, like bucatini or penne. Now you’re inundated with pastas made from everything except flour: from legumes like chickpeas to brown rice and other grains or even seeds (quinoa). Many of these new pastas satisfy the growing desire for gluten-free options and are marketed as healthier alternatives. While some are actually packed with more beneficial nutrients, others may be no better for you than a white pasta.
First, some background. Traditional “white” pasta is made from enriched semolina flour, which is finely ground durum wheat that is dried into the many noodle shapes found on ready-to-eat pasta shelves. It is typically low in protein and fiber, because that part of the wheat has been removed. Whole-wheat pasta, however, has more fiber and protein than it’s nutritionally stripped counterpart. New pasta alternatives made from other plant foods such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and quinoa contain roughly the same calories as traditional pasta, but can offer double the protein and fiber per serving.
However, don’t be fooled by the so-called “vegetable” pastas. Many times these pastas contain vegetable powders that are mixed with classic pasta flours, which is just enough to change the color of the pasta but not to provide any nutritional benefit. Instead, make your own vegetable “noodles” such as spiralized zucchini, sweet potato, or beets for the ultimate nutritional boost. Vegetable noodles are also naturally gluten-free, for those who need to avoid gluten.
Source: USDA Food Composition Database
How do you determine if a pasta is a better-for-you option? Read the nutrition label, of course! Compare labels for total calories, protein, and fiber to see which packs the most nutrition per serving. Protein and fiber are slow-digesting, so some alternative pastas like the bean pastas can help you feel full for longer. If you do choose a white pasta, add vegetables to your sauce (or use half-spiralized vegetables and half pasta) as well as a source of protein such as beans, chicken, or seafood to pump up the nutritional content for that meal.
Keep in mind that these alternative pastas may have a different consistency and mouthfeel than regular pasta, as well as different cooking instructions. Experiment with different pasta alternatives to decide which you like best!
At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. That’s why we have a team of registered dietitian nutritionists ready to answer your nutrition questions about which food choices will help you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. Email your questions and feedback to [email protected].