Pasta is undoubtedly one of the simplest and fastest ways to bring dinner to the table. You don’t have to be a great chef to bring a pot of water to a boil and open a saucepan of sauce, but you can feel like when the meal is a hit with the whole family because heart-warming food pleases the crowd.
However, pasta has a downside: the vast majority is made up of a refined grain, or white flour. And according to a study published in the February 2021 issue of The BMJ magazine, eating lots of refined carbohydrates, like pasta, can increase your risk of heart disease and premature death. It’s not something you want in your weekly dinner.
Pasta has a bad reputation when it comes to health, says Grace Derocha, RD, spokesperson for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But not all pasta is the same,” he says. Today, on the shelves of shops, you find many alternative pastas that are not made with refined grains. They’re often made by the nutritional superstars most people need most in their diets: beans, legumes, and whole grains. Unfortunately, misleading labels and hidden ingredients can make it difficult to choose a product that is truly an upgrade from the White Body.
Dieters, especially those low in carbs or keto, often come to Derocha to help replace pasta. “People think that a bean paste, like a chickpea paste, is low in carbohydrates,” says Derocha. But these people are wrong. “Several times a week I remind people that legumes are a source of carbohydrates.” But unlike traditional pasta, many of these alternative pastas are high in complex carbohydrates which are higher in protein and higher in fiber. “Carbohydrates are not to be feared! ” she says.
While most alternative pastas won’t help you cut down on carbs, they can help you add important nutrients to your diet. “Fiber is a great reason to change the pasta routine,” says Derocha. It may help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Unfortunately, 95% of Americans don’t get enough fiber, according to an article published in the January-February 2017 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. If you eat pasta several times a week, a high fiber choice can make a big difference.
Fiber isn’t the only reason to shop in the pasta aisle. Many of these alternative pastas contain more protein than regular white flour noodles. “What you choose really depends on what you need to improve,” says Derocha. “Most of it will be the fiber, but for some people it will be the protein that is more important.”
What is the nutritional value of pasta?
Whatever type of pasta you choose, it’s important to keep the right portions in mind. The serving size recommended by the Diet Guidelines for Americans is just half a cup of cooked, which is about 1 ounce (oz) dry. It is not difficult to exceed this amount, especially in a pasta appetizer. In fact, many products provide nutritional information for twice that amount, so be careful about how much you actually eat.
For reference, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2 ounces of dry white pasta (about 1 cup cooked) contains:
pasta (about 1 cup cooked) contains:
- Calories: 211
- Protein: 7 grams (g)
- Fat: 1g
- Carbs: 43g
- Fiber: 2g
Compare these nutrition facts to those of the alternative pastas below to get an idea of which options you might want to add to your pantry.
1. Edamame Pasta
This single ingredient pasta is Derocha’s all-time favorite. “It has a mild flavor that’s pretty close to normal spaghetti. It’s great with pesto, ”he says. If you are looking to increase protein or fiber, this choice is for you. Blow the white pasta out of the water anyway (see nutritional details below).
The name of the product is slightly misleading. “Soy noodles” would be more appropriate; the noodles are made from 100% soy flour. Edamame, on the other hand, are young soybeans that are usually eaten fresh and not dried.
Picky eaters may not be willing to jump into edamame pasta, especially not at first. “I like to mix it with regular pasta,” says Derocha. This is good advice when it comes to new pasta that you are trying to get your family to accept.
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 ounces of Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti:
- Calories: 180
- Protein: 24g
- Fat: 3.5g
- Carbs: 20g
- Fiber: 13g
2. Brown Rice Pasta
Rice noodles are anything but “alternatives” for many people. “In Asian culture, we have a lot of different rice noodle dishes,” says Derocha. “I’ll use brown rice pasta to make an Asian noodle dish, but I wouldn’t use it in a red sauce or an Italian-inspired dish.”
If you can’t eat gluten and love the taste and texture of brown rice pasta, this might be something you want to keep on hand. But if you’re looking for fiber and protein, you might want to try a different type.
“Considering the fiber content of brown rice in a whole food, it’s surprising how many grams of brown rice pasta it contains,” says Derocha. From a nutritional standpoint, this is not an improvement over traditional white pasta.
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 oz of Lundberg Family Farms brown rice pasta:
- Calories: 210
- Protein: 4g
- Fat: 2g
- Carbs: 43g
- Fiber: 2g
3. Chickpea Pasta
Chickpea pasta is a food that divides. People seem to like it or hate it, so you’ll have to try it for yourself to find out which side you belong to. But beware, if you look at the ubiquitous Banza brand, you will need to decode the label before making a decision.
“Look at the portion sizes. You will find that this is not the typical 2 ounce serving. A dietitian didn’t write these labels, ”says Derocha. The company uses a 3.5-ounce serving, which may make it more different from other pasta than it actually is. (See below for how this compares to a serving.)
For the best taste and texture, many fans recommend cooking the chickpea paste in less time than the package directions and rinsing it before serving. Derocha prefers pasta with chickpeas in cold dishes, such as pasta salad. “Especially for people who don’t eat beans, which research shows are so beneficial for their health, it’s worth trying to find a way to enjoy pasta made from beans,” he says. . “It’s a great plant-based protein.”
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 oz of Banza chickpea pasta:
- Calories: 190
- Protein: 11g
- Fat: 3g
- Carbs: 35g
- Fiber: 5g
4. Quinoa Pasta
Quinoa has a well-deserved reputation as a superfood. It’s a good source of fiber and also contains many other important nutrients, including magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and antioxidants, according to the USDA.
Quinoa paste, however, is not the same thing. “I haven’t seen a brand where quinoa is the main ingredient. The name is misleading,” says Derocha. Typically, quinoa is the second or third ingredient, behind rice flour or cornmeal or both. If you want to add extra protein or fiber to your diet, choose something else.
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 oz of Edison Grainery quinoa pasta:
- Calories: 200
- Protein: 5g
- Fat: 1.5g
- Carbs: 42g
- Fiber: 1g
5. Lentil Pasta
Lentil paste has similar benefits to the aforementioned edamame and chickpea paste. You will get more protein and fiber than traditional pasta. What you choose will be a matter of taste preferences.
This alternative pasta style is definitely not Derocha’s favorite. “I love lenses, but there are better options. I don’t know what’s going on in the processing. It gets chewy, mushy and I don’t like it, ”he says. When it comes to alternative pasta, personal preferences matter. You are unlikely to eat pasta that you don’t like.
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 oz of Barilla red lentil pasta:
- Calories: 180
- Protein: 13g
- Fat: 1.5g
- Carbs: 34g
- Fiber: 6g
6. Added-Protein Pasta
People looking to add extra grams of protein without sacrificing the sweet flavor and familiar texture of traditional pasta might opt for a version with added protein. These pastas are mainly durum wheat semolina flour (the refined white flour that gives classic pasta its characteristic taste and texture), with the addition of bean flours and pea protein. You will notice that its fiber content is not particularly impressive.
“Sometimes if you’re in the early stages of trying new things to improve your diet, this can be a good step,” says Derocha.
Here’s what you’ll find in 2 oz of Barilla Protein+ pasta:
- Calories: 190
- Protein: 10g
- Fat: 1g
- Carbs: 39g
- Fiber: 4g
The Bottom Line on Alternative Pastas
It may be a good idea to explore all of your pasta options, but you don’t have to give up on your current favorite. “It’s important to remember that pasta, even the traditional white flour-based pasta, doesn’t hurt. You just want to make sure you have it in the correct serving size. A lot of my customers are shocked when they see how small it is, ”says Derocha. The restaurant’s pasta portions often exceed 8 ounces.
“This is where these alternative pastas can come in. You can go half and half with regular pasta and something with more fiber and protein, like edamame pasta. Or you can also make half white flour pasta and half zucchini spaghetti, ”he says. “There are so many ways to enjoy the foods you love without overdoing it. “