Pasta: Don’t fear it!
By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD
Pasta is one of the most loved foods in the world. It’s central to Italian cuisine, and has become a versatile and affordable staple in households all over the United States.
However, many people shun or fear pasta due to the amount of carbohydrates it contains. While it is true that eating too many refined carbs may not be the best for your health, pasta can still be part of a balanced diet.
Read on to learn more about how to fit pasta into your meals.
Benefits of Pasta
Pasta is made from simple ingredients, including flour, eggs, water, and salt. Classic pastas are usually made from refined semolina or durum wheat flours.
All varieties of pasta contain carbohydrates that break down into glucose in the body and provide energy. Carbs are found in both refined and whole grain pastas. But pastas made from whole grains are generally considered more nutritious since they contain the fiber that gets stripped when flour is refined.
One cup of cooked spaghetti made from refined flour has 38 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber, whereas one cup of whole wheat spaghetti has roughly 40 grams of carbs but over 5 grams of fiber. Whole grain pasta also contains more of most micronutrients compared to refined pasta, even if the refined flour has been enriched (1).
So, while pasta isn’t as nutrient dense as some other foods, whole grain varieties still contain a good amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
How to Choose a Healthy Pasta
There are several different kinds of pasta, and the right variety for you depends on your lifestyle and goals.
In general, whole grain pasta is a better choice than refined pasta, since it provides more fiber and may be more filling. As a result, you may not feel the need to eat as much of it.
However, you can still include classic pasta in your diet, especially if you mostly eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes as your other sources of carbohydrates.
Regardless of which type of pasta you choose, remember to keep an eye on portion size, since the carbs and calories in pasta can add up. Stick to ½ to 1 cup of cooked pasta, and be sure to eat it with a protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a healthy fat (like olive oil) to make a complete meal.
Planning a meal with pasta as one component, instead of the only component, can help you enjoy this high-carb food without going overboard. You can even mix spaghetti with spiralized veggie noodles, like zucchini or carrot noodles, to boost the nutrition of your meal even more.
There are also several types of pastas made from legumes, such as black beans and lentils, that typically provide even more nutrients and fiber than whole grain pasta. If you are interested in switching it up, give one of these options a try.
Finally, when choosing a pasta (either made from wheat or legumes), look for one that has minimal ingredients. Pasta only needs flour, water, eggs, and salt, after all!
Note from Healthy For Life Meals: We don’t fear pasta, and neither should you! Our 105-meal menu incorporates pasta on occasion, with other filling foods so that you can enjoy this delicious food in the context of a balanced diet. Check out our menus and get started today.