Like many sections of our grocery stores, now the pasta aisle is filled with increasingly diverse options.
Maybe frustratingly varied would be a better descriptor.
What’s the difference between the noodles we know and all these new ones? Is one truly better? Let’s look at the facts.
Now, It’s Not Just Wheat
You can find noodles made out of just about every grain, but regardless of the grain, nutrition content is similar.
Compare a 2-ounce serving of pasta made from wheat, quinoa, corn or rice, and you’ll find they all contain about:
- 200 calories
- 4-7 grams of protein
- 1-2 grams of fat
- 40-45 grams of carbohydrate
- 1-2 grams of fiber
Unless you need gluten-free pasta, these options are pretty interchangeable.
You should also be aware that many noodles are a blend of multiple grains, especially in quinoa varieties.
If you switch from a standard wheat noodle to a whole-grain noodle, you get 3 more grams of fiber. You also can buy wheat-based noodles made from spelt or semolina.
The nutritional differences aren’t significant, but the price sure is. Instead of $1-2 per pound, you could find yourself spending upwards of $15 per pound.
Vegetable Alternatives for Pasta
Who are we kidding: cutting our vegetables into pasta shapes doesn’t make them taste like pasta.
But pasta-based noodles can really change nutrition. Spiralized zucchini, roasted spaghetti squash or hearts of palm noodles have the following in a 2-ounce portion:
- 30 calories
- 2 or less grams of protein
- No fat
- 5-10 grams of carbohydrate
- About 2 grams of fiber
It seems unfair to even compare wheat pasta to vegetable alternatives because both nutrient value and taste are so different.
Shirataki noodles are also known as the “miracle noodle” since they have no calories. It is made entirely from an indigestible fiber from the konjac root. While a no-calorie noodle intrigues, there’s a catch.
The package suggests we “rinse well to get rid of the funky smell.”
Reading that, I wasn’t willing to try it.
Pastas Using Legumes
Here’s where things can really get confusing. There are several pastas made from young soybeans or edamame. If we again look at our 2-ounce serving size, here’s what we find:
- Around 190 calories
- 25 grams of protein
- 3.5 grams of fat
- 20 grams of carbohydrate
- 11 grams of fiber
This nutritional powerhouse would be a great option for those following a more vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. They also work well for people interested in incorporating more plant protein, but who aren’t thrilled about tofu.
The Only Bean company makes options with traditional edamame as well as black soybeans, which they call black bean spaghetti.
Try not to confuse black spaghetti and black-bean noodles; they’re not the same.
A 2-ounce portion of black bean pasta has around 190 calories, but only 14 grams of protein, almost no fat, 35 grams of carbohydrate and 9 grams of fiber.
If you switch to a chickpea- or lentil-based noodle, your nutrient intake stays about the same.
Bottom Line: Make the Right Choice for Your Diet
Any pasta options can fit a balanced diet, but here are a few considerations:
- Most Americans don’t meet the daily recommendation for fiber. Whole wheat or legume pastas increase fiber significantly.
- Protein is certainly important, but if your meal already includes meat you probably don’t need protein from pasta.
- Taste matters. If we aren’t psychologically satisfied by our “funny-tasting” pasta dish, we’ll have less control over later snacking urges.
One way to know what’s right for you is to try a wide range, based on your health, taste and curiosity. You might find a new favorite.
Want to take charge of your health with your diet? Learn about nutrition services.
Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian with Avera Heart Hospital. Learn more about your nutrition and health by contacting Lauren.