Sat. May 18th, 2024

What Is The Healthiest Pasta? Dietitians’ Top 7 Picks And Recipes

Pasta is one of those foods that’s universally loved but often maligned because, well, carbs. While it’s traditionally made from refined grains, pasta can absolutely be healthy. Case in point: Pasta is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which experts consider one of the healthiest ways to eat.

More evidence comes from a 2020 study examining associations between pasta eaters and avoiders. The study found that pasta eaters had better diet quality, with higher daily intakes of folate, iron, magnesium and fiber compared to those who avoided pasta. Pasta eaters also had a lower intake of saturated fat and added sugars compared to those who didn’t eat pasta. 

These days, there are plenty of pasta options to meet your dietary needs and goals. Here’s a guide to the healthiest pasta and the most nutritious way to eat it to enjoy the benefits of a balanced diet.

Pasta nutrition

The nutritiousness of your pasta depends on the type you choose. For instance, whole-wheat pasta will have more fiber than traditional white pasta, while pasta made from pulses (like chickpeas) will offer much more protein than either option. For veggie noodles, nutrition will depend on which healthy vegetable you choose, but they’ll typically have fewer calories and carbs than other types of pasta.

Generally speaking, a cup of regular, cooked pasta noodles has: 

  • 168 calories
  • 6 grams of protein
  • 33 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

What is the healthiest type of pasta?

Chickpea pasta

To some degree, the healthiest pasta depends on your specific needs and goals. For instance, some people need to avoid gluten, while others can safely consume it. However, my vote for the healthiest pasta goes to chickpea pasta because it’s gluten free, so it meets various dietary needs, and it’s high in protein and fiber. 

A 2-ounce serving provides:

  • 190 calories
  • 11 grams of protein
  • 34 grams of carbohydrates
  • 8 grams of fiber
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 0.5 grams of saturated fat

Protein helps to fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer than other macronutrients (carbs and fat). It also helps you maintain muscle mass, which is important for weight management and healthy aging. Plus, one study found that chickpea eaters have more nutritious diets than those who skip chickpeas. 

Choosing a protein-containing pasta, such as chickpea pasta, can make mealtimes easier because you don’t have to cook a separate protein to make a balanced meal. Just add non-starchy veggies and a sauce of your choice, and you’ve got a healthy meal!

These days, many brands make chickpea pasta, but the healthiest versions have one ingredient: chickpea flour. Some popular brands may have additives, such as starches and gums, which give chickpea pasta a more classic pasta-like texture. However, these substances may play a role in disease risk. A large 2023 study found a link between cardiovascular disease risk and common emulsifiers, such as xantham gum. That’s why I recommend finding a chickpea pasta that doesn’t contain these substances. 

What are healthier options for pasta?

If you’re a pasta lover, you’ll appreciate that you have many healthier options to choose from. Here are some top choices.

Whole-wheat pasta

Whole wheat pasta has a nuttier flavor and grainier texture than ordinary pasta, but when covered with sauce, it’s just as delicious.

Unlike typical pasta, whole-wheat pasta contains all three parts of the grain — the bran, endosperm and germ — which means it’s less processed and more nutritious. Whole-grain foods contain fiber and health-protecting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. 

Findings from a large review study suggest that replacing refined grains with whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.

1 cup of cooked whole-wheat pasta contains:

  • 207 calories
  • 7 grams of protein
  • 39 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Soba noodles

These noodles are made from buckwheat, another whole grain. Buckwheat is a nutritious, gluten-free grain, but if you’re on a gluten-free diet, check labels for soba noodles carefully, as some contain a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour.

Buckwheat contains numerous bioactive compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties.

Two ounces of 100% buckwheat noodles contain:

  • 200 calories
  • 7 grams of protein
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 39 grams of carbohydrates
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Brown-rice pasta

This whole-grain pasta is gluten-free, but it’s also a great option for those who prefer a whole-grain pasta that has a milder flavor than whole-wheat pasta. 

A serving of this healthiest rice is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and B vitamins, and an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient that supports bone health and is necessary for brain and nerve function. 

One cup of cooked brown-rice pasta contains:

  • 215 calories
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 50 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 3 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Red-lentil pasta

Red-lentil pasta is another healthy alternative to traditional pasta. Not only is it gluten-free, but it’s also rich in protein and fiber. Lentils are also an excellent source of other nutrients, such as folate and iron. Plus, they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, so they have positive effects on numerous health issues, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. 

As with other alternative kinds of pasta, look for versions that contain one ingredient — in this case, red-lentil flour — and no gums or additives.

 A 2-ounce serving of red-lentil pasta has:

  • 180 calories
  • 13 grams of protein
  • 34 grams of carbohydrates
  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 1.5 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Veggie noodles

Making zucchini noodles with a spiralizer.Olga Miltsova / Getty Images

Swapping out your pasta for a non-starchy veggie is a fun way to get more veggies in your diet — something that would benefit most people. It can also be helpful for people trying to watch their carb or calorie intake.

If you want to get on the veggie noodle bandwagon but don’t want to make a full swap, consider substituting a portion of your pasta with veggies. This blend will give you the best of both worlds. If you want to try veggie noodles, but you don’t have a spiralizer (or don’t want to be bothered), you can buy frozen or freshly prepped spiralized veggies at most major grocery stores.

Since veggie noodles are lacking in protein, it’s helpful to pair them with a protein-rich food, such as ground turkey, to balance out your meal.

A cup of cooked zucchini has:

  • 27 calories
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Healthiest pasta for weight loss

All types of pasta can be worked into a weight-loss diet, but some types may offer more of an advantage. While you may think of veggie noodles as being the best pasta for weight loss, edamame pasta is my top pick if you’re trying to shed a few pounds.

Edamame pasta

The fiber and protein content of edamame pasta makes it an excellent choice for weight loss since these nutrients help you feel full longer, which may help you eat less overall. Plus, bioactive compounds in soy — known as soy isoflavones — have been found to influence your gut microbiome in a way that affects carbohydrate absorption and metabolism. That makes soy foods potentially beneficial for weight control. 

Again, look for edamame pasta that doesn’t contain any thickening agents.

A 2-ounce serving of edamame pasta has:

  • 190 calories
  • 25 grams of protein
  • 50 grams of carbohydrates
  • 11 grams of fiber
  • 3.5 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat

Healthiest pasta dishes

Where people often go wrong with pasta is to eat a giant portion. In the Mediterranean region, where pasta is a staple, it’s often eaten in smaller portions than what we’re used to eating in the U.S. And it’s balanced out with other foods. 

A balanced pasta meal contains more vegetables than pasta. And unless you’re choosing a protein-rich pasta, it’s also helpful to add a protein source, such as seafood or chicken, to your pasta meal. Also, go easy on creamy, rich sauces; healthier choices include red and olive-oil-based sauces, such as pesto.

Here are some ideas for making a healthy pasta dish at home:

Zucchini pasta with pistachios and parmesan

Try serving it with salmon and a side salad. 

Zucchini Pasta with Pistachios and Parmesan

Elena Besser

Giada De Laurentiis’ baked penne with roasted vegetables

I’d also recommend a side salad here.

Giada De Laurentiis’ Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

Giada De Laurentiis

Creamy avocado pesto pasta

I’d add a side salad here and some chicken, or use a protein-forward pasta instead.

Creamy Avocado Pesto Pasta

Samah Dada

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