A Healthier Bowl of Pasta

Whole-grain and higher-fiber pastas are healthier. But how do they taste?

From the WebMD Archives

It's brown, and it sometimes feels like it's biting you back when you bite into it. It comes in many shapes and types. It can single-handedly boost the fiber and nutrients in any meal that features it. It's whole-grain or high-fiber pasta, and it's coming to a supermarket near you (if it's not there already)!

You know you're onto something when a major brand jumps on the bandwagon, right? Well, not too long ago, Barilla (which is as much fun to say with an Italian accent as it is to eat) came out with a higher-fiber line of pasta, Barilla Plus.

But do these new healthier pastas pass the taste test?

Well, pasta (like most foods) is all about three things: color, flavor, and texture. Most Americans are used to white, tender, pleasantly neutral-tasting pasta. Not everyone is going to eat 100% whole-wheat pasta and love it. But there are options out there.

Barilla Plus is the brand I think is most similar in look and feel to white-flour pasta. This company was definitely thinking outside the pasta box when they formulated this new product. They added a grain and legume flour blend that includes lentils, chickpeas, egg whites, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber and oats. The egg whites and the legumes boost the protein, the barley and oats boost the soluble fiber, and the flaxseed provides some healthy plant omega-3s.

And how does it taste? This pasta is similar indeed to regular pasta -- even passable to most kids, I suspect.

Comparing the Healthier Pastas

Most of the whole-wheat pastas I found featured whole durum wheat flour, which is the same as saying "whole semolina flour." Apparently, "semolina" is another word for "coarsely ground durum wheat." You'll probably only come across this type of wheat when reading pasta labels. Durum wheat is thought to be the best wheat for pasta-making, thanks to its higher protein and gluten content (gluten is a type of protein in wheat that helps give baked products structure).

I'm not going to lie to you: The 100% whole-wheat pastas may take some getting used to. I actually didn't mind that they were browner and heartier, especially when they were part of a fab recipe that included several other ingredients.

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Which healthier pasta is highest in fiber or protein, and which brands boost your plant omega-3s as a bonus? Here's a table to help you compare (fiber, protein and fat are measured in grams).

Pasta (2 ounces dry)

Calories

Fiber

Protein

Fat

Barilla Plus Spaghetti*

210

4 g

10 g

2 g

Westbrae Natural Organic Whole Wheat Lasagna

210

6 g

8 g

1.5 g

365 Organic Whole Wheat Shells (from Whole Foods)

210

5 g

7 g

1 g

Lifestream Organic Whole Grain & Flax Linguini*

208

8 g

9 g

3.5 g

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle Pasta

210

5 g

8 g

1.5 g

* Barilla Plus Spaghetti contains 0.2 g plant omega-3s. Lifestream Organic Whole Grain & Flax Linguini contains 0.7 g plant omega-3s.

More About Healthier Pasta Brands

Here are more details about these whole-grain or higher-fiber pastas:

  • Barilla Plus Penne: While this enriched multigrain pasta isn't 100% whole wheat, it contains a grain and legume flour blend, along with semolina. This blend generally includes lentils, chickpeas, oats, spelt, barley, egg whites, ground flaxseed and wheat or oat fiber. What this means is that the pasta is high in protein (from the legume flour and the egg whites,) contains some plant omega-3s (from the ground flaxseed,) and will boost your fiber significantly (thanks to the legumes, whole grains, ground flaxseed.) Cooking time for the penne variety is 11-12 minutes.
  • Westbrae Natural Organic Lasagna: The first and only ingredient is organic whole durum wheat flour. Hard to argue with that, isn't it? I love lasagna, so I've noticed over the years that it is definitely difficult to find a higher fiber lasagna noodle. So I was happy to have found this choice at Whole Foods. Yes, it's definitely whole-wheat pasta, but this fact seems to be less noticeable when it is layered in lasagna. Cooking time: 10 minutes for the lasagna.
  • Lifestream Organic Whole Grain & Flax Linguini: This pasta has the highest amount of plant omega-3s in a serving of the brands I checked out. The fiber ain't too shabby, either (8 grams per 2 ounce serving). The brand is distributed through Nature's Path Foods Inc. in Washington, and has just two ingredients: organic wheat durum flour and organic brown flax meal. Cooking time for the linguine is 7-9 minutes.
  • 365 Organic Whole Wheat Shells: Even the Whole Foods store brand is jumping on the whole-wheat pasta bandwagon. The pasta contains just organic whole durum wheat flour and water. You'll find it in assorted shapes including long narrow tubes (also known as penne). Cooking time for the shells is 14-16 minutes.
  • Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Pasta Rotelle: You can find a few different shapes of whole-wheat pasta in the Trader Joe's brand, including rotelle, penne, and spaghetti. The only ingredient in this pasta is organic durum whole wheat. Cooking time is 9-11 minutes for the rotelle.

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5 Healthier Pasta Survival Tips

Ready to try one of these healthier types of pasta? Here are five tips to help you make the transition:

  1. Keep trying different higher fiber pasta brands or products until you find the one you and your family enjoy most.
  2. Whole wheat or higher-fiber pastas are more appealing when served with flavorful sauces or layered (like in lasagna) with sauce, cheese, vegetables, etc.
  3. Keep in mind that some whole-wheat pastas seem to lighten in color as they cook. (I suspect this has to do with the absorption of water).
  4. You may eat a little less pasta than you normally would. The whole-wheat and higher- fiber pastas seem to be more satisfying.
  5. If you are a ravioli or tortellini lover, fear not! I've found raviolis made with whole-wheat pasta at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty food stores.

Pasta Recipes

Here are a couple of pasta recipes -- one hot and one cold - that are perfect for the healthier whole-grain and higher-fiber brands.

Charleston Chicken Pasta (this dish is served chilled)

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 1/2 cups hearty stews/chili + 2 ounces low-fat cheese OR 1 serving lean meat with 1 tsp fat maximum + 3/4 cup starchy foods without added fat

3 tablespoons light mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

6 boneless, skinless grilled chicken breasts (seasoned with a garlic & pepper blend or garlic powder, black pepper, and salt, if desired)

1/2 cup shredded smoked mozzarella, packed

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 cup grape tomato halves

1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley (parsley flakes can also be used)

3 cups whole wheat linguini pasta, cooked, drained and cooled (or any desired shape)

Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

  • Add mayo, sour cream, and lemon juice to a 1-cup measure and stir to blend.
  • Cut the chicken breasts into 1/4-inch thick slices (should be around 3 1/2 cups of chicken strips). Add chicken, mozzarella, celery, green onions, tomatoes, parsley and cooked noodles into a large serving bowl and toss to blend.
  • Drizzle the mayo mixture over the chicken noodle mixture and toss to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste if desired. Cover and store in the refrigerator until right before serving.

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Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: 416 calories, 43 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 4.4 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 259 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

Simple Spinach & Tomato Pasta

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 3/4 cup starchy foods with 1 tsp fat maximum + 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 cup loosely packed chopped spinach, fresh or frozen in bags

1 tablespoon minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste (optional)

2 cups cooked whole-wheat pasta in small shapes, like macaroni, rotelli, or small shells

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

  • Add olive oil to a medium nonstick saucepan or skillet heated over medium-high heat. After about 20 seconds, when the oil is nice and hot, add tomatoes, spinach, and garlic and continue to saute for a few minutes until spinach is soft and bright green and tomatoes are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Stir in the cooked pasta and continue to cook and stir the mixture for a minute or two to heat up the pasta and blend the flavors. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and turn off the heat. Let the dish sit for a couple of minutes, sprinkle pine nuts over the top and serve.

Yield: 2 servings

Per serving: 279 calories, 11 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 5 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 89 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 27%.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on April 05, 2007

Sources

Published April 6, 2007.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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