Part of engaging on any journey is learning the lay of the land. A journey to improve nutrition is no different. Most of us grew up eating regular white-wheat pasta, and probably continued to assume into adulthood that it was the only choice. But an increasing emphasis on gluten-free options, and the growing movement to more nutrient-dense foods, as given us a plethora of pasta options.
So how do you decide which to eat?
Taste preference, gluten tolerance, and gastronomical fortitude will all affect your choices, but if you are looking for the best nutritional bang, here is a rundown of what the different types of pastas have to offer:
(if you want a downloadable cheat sheet, check out the link at the bottom of the page)
White wheat—I’m sure you have heard by now that white wheat products are largely nutritionally worthless. They do not have many nutrients, and because they are simple carbohydrates, the body digests quickly, and much like an additional sugar. It’s hard to avoid, but definitely not the best choice, nutritionally speaking.
Whole wheat—Whole wheat is less processed than white wheat, and therefore has more nutrients and fiber. This means it is more complex, and digests slower. However, it may be a problem for those who are gluten sensitive or suffering from celiac disease. While gluten is not evil in and of itself, those with true gluten issues will need to avoid whole wheat as well. For those that can consume whole wheat, make sure it is 100% whole wheat—there should only be one ingredient on the ingredient list (specifically Durum wheat).
Gluten-free—For those with gluten issues, there are a ton of gluten-free pastas on the market. The most common are made with rice or corn-based. While these options are a necessary better choice for those with true gluten sensitivity issues, they are likely to be just as, if not more, processed than white wheat pastas, and should be avoided. Quinoa pasta is another excellent choice, but you will need to check the ingredients to make sure it is 100% quinoa. Food producers like to trick consumers by plastering QUINOA on the package, and then making it maybe 10-15% quinoa, and the rest corn or rice.
Legume—Legumes such as lentils, black beans, or chick peas can be used to make pasta. These choices are high in fiber and protein, which is great, but again they could be highly processed so make sure to check ingredients. These pastas will likely take some getting used to. The portion sizes will likely be smaller because they are naturally more filling (which could help with the getting used to).
With added vegetables—You have seen the oddly colored pastas on the grocery store shelves, right? Adding vegetables to the pasta itself may add some different nutrients, but most likely it is still predominately made of wheat, and may be rather processed.
Veggies noodles—So how about just making noodles straight out of vegetables? This is becoming increasingly popular. Zucchini is a common choice, as well as sweet potato, squashes, or beets. Spaghetti squash is similar, but doesn’t require you to make the noodles! Veggie noodles can be made with a spiralizer, or these days can often be purchased premade from many grocery stores. Obviously they are super healthy, though if you are buying premade, check ingredients for preservatives. But, of course, there may be a learning curve in preparing and cooking, and yes, the enjoying. Just remember how awesome they are for your body!
I hope you will be willing to give some different types of pasta a try! Start with stronger sauces, if necessary, to adjust to the taste and texture, and see what works best for you and your family.
Have fun experimenting, and enjoy the journey!