Is pasta healthy: Types, benefits, and preparation – Insider – INSIDER

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  • Just because it contains carbs doesn’t mean you have to swear off pasta completely. 
  • However, some pastas are healthier than others so check the nutrition label for processed ingredients, fiber, and protein. 
  • Here’s a breakdown of the healthiest pastas and how to prepare them for a nutritious, balanced meal you can feel good about.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Pasta often gets a bad reputation when it comes to many of today’s low-carb, fad diets. However, pasta can be healthy, but it depends on the type of pasta you eat as well as how you prepare it.

The healthiest types of pasta

There are plenty of different types of pasta to choose from. Most regular pasta is made with refined grains – typically semolina flour or durum flour. But then there’s a slew of other options like:

“If you want to maximize your pasta experience, aim for whole grain or organic bean/vegetable pastas that are made from the powder of these foods,” says Brenda Rea, MD, family and preventive medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health. 

Whole grain, veggie, and bean pastas tend to contain more fiber, which can lead to more stable blood sugar levels after you’re done eating. However, each brand is different. 

So, when you’re grocery shopping, always read the labels on the pasta boxes to determine its nutritional value. Look for protein content, fiber content, and if the product is 100%, or just partly, whole grain. 

The more protein and fiber you’re getting, the slower your body will digest the food, making you feel fuller for longer as well as preventing blood sugar spikes. To see how different pastas compare, we looked at four types of rotini from a popular pasta brand, Barilla, in the table below:

As you can see, the calorie and fat differences aren’t too far apart, but you’ll be getting more than double the fiber with the chickpea and whole-grain rotini plus a bit more protein, along with the greater spectrum of nutrients these whole foods naturally contain.

Moreover, durum, like what’s in many veggie pasta is more processed and not as nutritious as the whole wheat in whole wheat pasta.

How to prepare a healthy plate of pasta

The typical serving size of pasta is about two ounces of uncooked pasta, which fills one cup when cooked. Check the instructions on the box to see if there are different cooking times for various levels of doneness. What you’re looking for is how long it takes to cook your pasta to al dente — so it’s still slightly firm to bite. 

If there’s only one cooking time on the box, that’s usually the time it takes to reach al dente. But, to be sure, keep a close eye on the pasta as it cooks and taste test a minute or two before the timer goes off. Because the longer the pasta is cooked, the mushier it gets, which affects its nutritional value.

“The longer the pasta is cooked, the higher the glycemic index and the easier and faster the pasta is digested,” says Rea. “For those who have normal digestive processes, al dente pasta would be ideal, however, for those who have digestive concerns, longer cooking may be ideal to aid in digestion.” 

While pasta is often served hot, cold pasta may be a bit healthier since it has more resistant starch. We tend to digest resistant starch more slowly which “reduces the glycemic index a little more than eating fresh, hot pasta, and feeds the gut microbiome to create a healthy balance of gut bugs that promotes health and reduces inflammation,” says Rea. However, she adds that while the difference is there, it’s minimal.

Of course, what you put on top of your pasta will also make a big difference. According to Rea, some great healthy toppings are veggies, garlic, onions, fresh herbs, spices, and extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil. Some not-so-healthy toppings are processed meats, red meats, butter, dairy-based sauces, and cheeses.

You don’t have to give up delicious pasta altogether if you’re trying to eat healthier or lose weight. There are so many different options of pastas that still taste amazing, even if they aren’t the traditional pasta you grew up eating. 

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