Pasta vs Pasta Alternatives: Which is the Healthiest?
Who doesn’t love a bowl of pasta with a delicious sauce? It’s the ultimate comfort food! But pasta has gotten a bad rap in the past few years, likely due to the low carb craze as well as the fact that white pasta refined and stripped of many nutrients. As a nutritionist, I believe that “all foods can fit” and have no problem recommending pasta to my clients. But that being said, most of us eat WAY more than a serving of pasta. Restaurants often serve 3-4 cups which can add up to 1000 calories without the sauce! While there is nothing wrong with a bowl of regular white pasta on occasion, it’s not a great idea to indulge on a regular basis if. you have diabetes, prediabetes, PCOS or if you trying to follow a low carb eating plan. The good news is that there are some new pasta and pasta alternatives on the market. Read on to get my take on pasta or pasta alternatives; which is the healthiest?
Different types of regular pasta
It used to be that pasta only varied in shape and size. You could pick angel hair, rigatoni, fusilli or regular spaghetti. But now there are some variations of pasta. Some has added fiber and protein, while others add are made from whole wheat flour or have vegetables (or veggie powder) added in.
- White pasta. This is the original pasta. Nothing like a good ol’ bowl of white pasta. You certainly don’t need to avoid white pasta, but keep portions moderate. I’d also suggest you try some of the other options!
- Pasta with added fiber or protein. The carbs and calories tend to remain the same as regular pasta; the only difference is that 2-3 grams of protein or fiber have been added in. I don’t think this pasta is really worth it. You can add 1 oz of meat or cheese and get an additional 7 grams of protein.
- Veggie pasta. If you think you are going to get a serving of veggies, forget it! Most have just a little dried vegetable in there to add color. The supergreen pastas does contain more, but add a ½. You’re better off adding a side dish of fresh veggies
- Whole wheat pasta. This is a great way to enjoy pasta but with a better nutritional profile. Since it’s a whole grain, it contains more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than white pasta. It’s a bit lower in calories and carbs and higher in protein and fiber and is also a source of more vitamins/minerals as it’s a whole grain. And while it’s still tasty, it’s not that good that you want to eat 3 bowls.
What are pasta alternatives?
Now here is where it gets interesting! I call these pasta alternatives because they are made from ingredients other then the typical wheat flour. You’ll see pasta being made from everything from quinoa to hearts of palm. They are becoming increasingly popular due to the demand of less “white” flour, more fiber and/or gluten free productsWhile most of the following products are gluten free, double check labels for the GF stamp – especially if y0u have celiac disease.
- Quinoa pasta is made from quinoa, whole grain and contains more protein, fiber and iron than than regular pasta.
- Lentil/bean based pasta. Here is where the nutritional powerhouse pastas come in!
–Black bean pasta is made from 2 ingredients – black beans and water (but sometimes combined with thickening agents like tapioca and xanthum gum). It’s loaded with protein (25 grams per serving!) and fiber and is significantly lower in carbs/calories than regular pasta. In addition, the carbs from the high fiber beans have a lower glycemic index as compared to pasta made from wheat. Try to get past the black water in the pot while cooking!
-Lentil/chick pea/soybean pasta. Similar to black bean pasta although not quite as high in protein.
- Soba noodles. These are made from 100% buckwheat and rich in fiber and protein and have a nuttier taste than traditional pasta. Pure buckwheat noodles are GF, but be sure to check the food label.
- White rice and corn pasta. No real reason to eat these unless you have an allergies to the other types.
- Brown rice pasta. Basically it’s pasta in rice form.
- Almond flour pasta. Made from almond flour and eggs with 1/2 the carbs as regular pasta. This is great option for those looking for those people looking to still eat pasta but to have less of an effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Not really pasta:
- Spiralized vegetables (zucchini, beet, carrot, etc.) Why is it so much more interesting to eat veggies that have been spiralized versus just sliced. The calories are so much lower than regular pasta, so no need to feel guilty if you are watching your weight or carbs. Buy a spiralizing machine or hand-held cone to make it. Compare one cup of cooked pasta at ~ 220 calories to one cup of sautéed zucchini spirals at 30 calories (not counting any oil)
- Spaghetti squash. A delicious low carb, low cal alternative to pasta. Great with a meat sauce or a little butter and parmesan cheese. Try microwaving the squash before cutting it in half. Then bake face-down on baking sheet until soft ~ 45 minutes.
- Shirataki noodles. If you like real pasta, most of you will probably turn your nose up at these stinky little noodles. But if you’re on a low carb diet, this could be the perfect pasta substitute for you. They are made from either konjac root (aka glucomannan), yam flour or tofu and are virtually calorie and carb free and contain gut healthy fiber. Read my blog post on Shirataki noodles.
- Kelp noodles. These noodle are made from raw or dried kelp and combined with a flour or a paste with water. They would probably taste best with a highly flavorful sauce like in a stir-fry.
- Palmini noodles. Made from hearts of palm. Very low in carbs and calories
Comparison chart of pasta and pasta alternatives
|PASTA BRAND||SERV SIZE||BASE (incl. some ingredients)||CALORIES||CARBS gm||FIBER gm||PROTEIN gm||FORTIFIED|
|Barilla, white||2 oz||Semolina wheat||200||42||3||7||yes|
|Ronzoni, Garden Delight||2 oz||Semolina wheat||210||43||3||7||yes|
|Ronzoni, Super Greens||2 oz||Semolina wheat, dried vegetables||200||40||7||9||yes|
|Barilla, White Fiber||2 oz||Semolina wheat w/ Hi-Maize resistant corn starch||200||43||6||6||yes|
|De Cecca, Whole Wheat||2 oz||Wholemeal duram wheat semolina||200||39||5||8||yes|
|Barilla Protein Plus||2 oz||Semolina wheat, legume flour, egg whites, oat fiber||190||38||4||10||yes|
|Light N' Fluffy||2 oz||Duram wheat flour, eg yolks||210||40||2||8||yes|
|No Yolks Egg White Noodles||2 oz||Duram wheat flour, corn flour, egg whites||200||40||2||8||yes|
|ALTERNATE GRAIN (usually GF)|
|Ancient Harvest||2 oz||Corn, quinoa||210||46||4||4||no|
|Explore Cuisine||2 oz||Brown rice||210||46||<1||4||no|
|King Soba Buckwheat||2 oz||100% whole buckwheat||180||33||5||4||no|
|Trader Joe's Organic||2 oz||Brown rice||200||43||2||4||no|
|Thai Kitchen||2 oz||Brown rice, white rice||200||43||1||4||no|
|Banza||2 oz||Chickpeas, pea protein||190||32||8||14||no|
|Explore Cuisine||2 oz||Black beans||180||19||11||25||no|
|Explore Cuisine||2 oz||Mung beans||180||28||6||13||no|
|Explore Cuisine||2 oz||Soy beans (edamame)||180||20||13||24||no|
|Pow!||2 oz||Red lentil, quinoa||200||35||7||14||no|
|Palmini||5 oz||Hearts of palm||40||8||4||4||no|
|Zucchini noodles - Green Giant||6 oz or 1.5 cups raw or 1 cup cooked||Zucchini||39||4||2||2||no|
|Butternut squash spirals - Green Giant||6 oz or 1.5 cups||Butternut squash||50||12||1||1||no|
|Spaghetti squash||8.3 oz or 1.5 cups||spaghetti squash||75||12||3||0||no|
|Beet spirals - Green Giant||6 oz or 1.6 cups||Beets||70||16||4||2||no|
|Kelp noodles||4 oz||kelp||6||1||1||0||no|
|Tofu Shirataki||8 oz (whole package)||Soybeans, yam flour||20||6||4||1||calcium|
|Miracle Noodles||8 oz (whole package)||Glucomannan||15||6||3||0||calcium|
|House Foods Smart Noodles||8 oz (whole package)||Oat fiber, yam, flaxseed, rice bran fiber||40||12||12||4||calcium|
|Capellos fettuccine||2 oz||Almond Flour, eggs, tapioca flour (NF)||190 (11 gm fat)||21||3||6||no|
|VERY HIGH FIBER|
|Fiber Gourmet Light Penne||2 oz||Durum semolina flour, modified wheat starch, wheat gluten (NF)||130||42||18||6||no|
|Thin Slim Foods Impastable Low Carb||2 oz||Oat fiber, wheat fiber, wheat protein isolate, egg whites, duram flour (NF)||*55||43||*36||4||no|
Pasta vs pasta alternatives; which is healthiest? My top 6 picks
Since I often work with patients who are watching their carbs, most of my top picks will be on the lower carb side. I believe in “all foods fit”. You can certainly have a bowl of white pasta on occasion. If you choose to do that, here is a tip: cook it al dente vs well done to have a lower glycemic impact … of course watch your portion sizes.
- Spiralized veggies & spaghetti squash. Of course this has to be my first answer … I’m a nutritionist!
- Bean/lentil pasta. If you like the way these taste, they are a sure winner. Feel free to add this is to your diet on a regular basis.
- Whole wheat pasta. A healthier choice then the standard white pasta, but you’ll still need to keep tabs on portions if you are limiting your carbs.
- Almond pasta. Great choice for those limiting carbs. But again, watch portions as it’s not low calorie.
- Buckwheat noodles. They are higher in fiber and protein and lower in carbs than regular pasta.
- Last but not least, the stinky Shirataki noodles! I’d like to say the Palmini noodles are a tie, but to be honest, I have not tried them yet.
What are your favorite types of pasta?
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.