Pasta is an incredibly common ingredient, one that makes its way into countless meals and recipes. It’s delicious, inexpensive, and easy to use, but is pasta good for you? Our modern focus on superfoods and low carb would suggest that pasta is something to be avoided. Yet, this dietary staple does still have some benefits.
Let’s start by talking about pasta itself. It’s a noodle that traditionally uses wheat as the base ingredients, along with eggs or water. Pasta is normally boiled to cook it and served hot, but there are exceptions to that general rule too.
There are also plenty of different types of pasta, with many distinct shapes, fillings, and styles to choose from. Pasta isn’t just versatile. It’s also cheap and is a delicious comfort food. So, let’s look at whether pasta is actually good for you.
Is Pasta Good For Your Health?
- Benefits Of Pasta
- The Problems With Pasta
- Should You Eat Pasta?
- Alternatives To Pasta
- Is Pasta Healthy?
Benefits Of Pasta
It’s Incredibly Practical
The first benefit of pasta has nothing to do with health at all. We’re talking about just how versatile pasta is. Seriously, we use pasta in countless recipes, including simple and complex ones. This is partly because there are many types of pasta, which makes it easy to find one that suits the recipe you’re focusing on.
Pasta also combines well with plenty of ingredients, so it’s often an easy way to get healthy foods into your diet. For example, serving pasta with a lean source of protein, fresh vegetables, and a low calorie sauce will give you a healthy and filling meal.
Pasta-based meals often end up being fast to prepare – making them excellent for busy weeknights and times where you have little energy.
Let’s not forget that pasta also stores well and is inexpensive. These features are crucial for families on a budget. The beginner-friendly nature of pasta makes it a simple ingredient to cook, even for people with little experience.
Contains Some Nutrients
Even the healthiest pasta is never a nutritional powerhouse. Still, it can offer some nutrients, including various B vitamins. This is helpful, especially when you’re combining pasta with healthy ingredients like vegetables, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and lean meat.
Some types of pasta are fortified, meaning that they have extra nutrients added, like iron or perhaps B vitamins. Of course, these nutrients aren’t as powerful as the ones that you naturally find in food.
Then there’s whole wheat pasta. This is higher in fiber than white pasta and contains more nutrients too, including iron, zinc, and magnesium. The fiber is crucial, as this helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
You Can Make Your Own
If you’re worried about the highly refined and processed pasta from your local store, why not make your own instead? There are plenty of amazing recipes to choose from, including those featured in pasta cookbooks.
Homemade pasta tends to be delicious and tastes much fresher than anything from the store. Making it yourself even once might put you off buying pasta for life.
A Source Of Energy
Pasta is low in fats and high in carbs. While that combination is often seen as negative, the carbs in pasta do provide you with plenty of energy. That’s an important feature.
Besides, the nutrients and healthy fats from your other ingredients should help to fill in any nutrient gaps.
The Problems With Pasta
Is High In Carbs
White foods, like pasta, are sources of simple carbs. These carbs are processed quickly in your body, which leads to a spike in your blood sugar. That effect isn’t a good thing, as it means you feel hungry more quickly. You could even end up shaky.
Plus, diets high in simple carbs may lead to various health problems, including an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, and chronic disease.
You can improve things by switching to whole grain pasta instead. Doing so provides you with more complex carbs, which have greater benefits.
Of course, carbs remain controversial. Many people try to avoid carbs entirely, arguing that they increase the risk of disease, weight gain, inflammation, and other problems.
Most types of pasta are a poor choice if you’re worried about carbs. This isn’t too surprising, as pasta is made from wheat flour, which is always carb rich.
Because pasta’s made from wheat, it tends to contain gluten – a decent amount of it too.
This makes pasta a no-go for anyone sensitive to gluten. The gluten content could even be why some people feel sick after eating pasta (not always, of course, some of us feel sick simply because we eat too much pasta at a time).
There are gluten-free pasta options, but none of these are pasta in the traditional sense. Some are made from different ingredients entirely, like brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta, and chickpea pasta. None of these will have the same flavor or texture as regular pasta, but they can be useful in some situations.
Pasta might seem like a whole food ingredient, but it’s actually highly refined, especially if you’re focusing on white pasta. Refined foods are never a great plan for health. They often contain fewer nutrients than whole foods and are digested much faster.
While whole wheat pasta is a better nutritional choice than white pasta, it’s still refined.
There Are Better Choices
If we’re talking purely about nutritional value, then pasta doesn’t fare well. Most of pasta’s benefits come from how practical it is and how you can combine other healthy foods with pasta.
Yet, those useful features don’t just apply to pasta. There are plenty of other ingredients that you can use instead, ones that have more benefits and fewer problems.
Take zucchini noodles as an example. They’re a common pasta alternative on a low carb diet and can be used in a similar way (some of the time, at least). Zucchini noodles, or zoodles, aren’t as versatile as pasta, but they’re more nutritious, are a whole food, and keep the carb content low.
You don’t need to directly replace pasta in your meals anyway. You can simply look at making different dishes, ones that skip the pasta entirely.
Should You Eat Pasta?
Pasta doesn’t have the greatest reputation these days and, as you’ve seen, it’s not the most nutritionally dense food out there. Yet, pasta can still be part of a healthy diet. It is for many people.
You’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet, right? This is seen as an incredibly healthy way to eat, partly because people from Mediterranean countries tend to be healthier, on average, than people from countries like the United States.
Few people argue about the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. Yet, this eating approach includes pasta as a key ingredient, which proves that you don’t need to avoid pasta.
Still, pasta can get unhealthy fast, so there are some things to think about when you’re planning your meals.
What You Serve With It
Pasta is an excellent vehicle for other ingredients, including fresh vegetables, meat, legumes, and sauce. Of course, it’s easy to go the other way with pasta too and dish it up with rich and creamy sauces that are high in calories and don’t contain that many nutrients.
To get the most out of pasta, you need to choose your other ingredients carefully.
Look for meals that are rich in nutrients. Having some source of protein helps too, whether this is meat, tofu, legumes, or something else. Doing so means that your meal is more filling and helps to balance out any blood sugar effects.
The Type Of Pasta
The health effects of pasta are influenced by the type you choose too. White, store bought pasta, is the least appealing, as this version is highly refined, while also containing less fiber and fewer nutrients than other types of pasta.
Whole wheat pasta can be healthier, as you’re getting all the nutrients from the wheat grain. Whole wheat pasta is also less processed than the white version.
Still, there’s no need to force yourself to eat whole wheat pasta if you don’t enjoy it. The nutrient differences aren’t dramatic, especially not if you’re eating plenty of healthy ingredients at the same time.
Your Serving Size
It’s easy to overdo it with pasta, partly because it’s comforting and partly because it isn’t filling on its own. This is where the problems begin. If you’re eating pasta too regularly or having large servings, then it could easily lead to weight gain.
Watching your serving size is crucial for getting the most out of your pasta. This could involve measuring out your servings, rather than judging things by eye. Be careful about going back for seconds too, even if you’re hungry.
Serving size is even more important when you’re eating pasta away from home. Pasta dishes from restaurants can be calorie-dense and the serving sizes can be huge. It’s often best to skip them entirely. Make pasta at home instead, this way you know exactly what is going into the dish.
Alternatives To Pasta
Few foods behave exactly like pasta. So, if you’re trying to avoid pasta, it might be best to focus on meals that don’t use pasta to begin with. Still, many of us do want to recreate our favorites and some ingredients can help you to do so.
The first option is one we mentioned earlier – zoodles. These are noodles made out of zucchini, which end up being healthy and surprisingly tasty. They feature in many delicious recipes too.
Zoodles are made by spiralizing zucchini; a technique that you can use with other types of vegetables as well.
Alternatively, you can use the flesh of a spaghetti squash to create a pasta alternative. The idea might sound strange, but the squash is easy to prepare, giving you thin noodles that are similar to angel hair pasta.
Shirataki noodles are a more processed option. They’re clear, fiber rich, and absorb flavors from your meal. The noodles get these features because they’re made from konjac root fiber. But, don’t rush for these noodles just yet. While they’re an excellent pasta alternative in some contexts, many people don’t enjoy the texture of the noodles or their smell when you first open the bag.
There are many other alternatives, far too many to cover in this list. You can easily find them by searching for keto pasta meals, as traditional pasta doesn’t feature on the keto diet.
Is Pasta Healthy?
Honestly, pasta isn’t healthy, not really. It contains few nutrients, is easily overeaten, is high in carbs, and can be heavily processed. But, as we’ve discussed, pasta can still be part of a healthy diet.
The trick is to make wise choices about the rest of your meal, focusing on nutrient dense ingredients and making sure that you get enough protein. Doing so gives you a delicious and nutritious meal. Would it be better with a different ingredient, rather than pasta? Perhaps, but you don’t need to optimize every single ingredient to eat well.