Is Pasta Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, Risks & Tips To Eat 2023
Pasta is well known for being a delicious and filling dish. Although very popular, is pasta healthy or is it bad for you?
While some may consider pasta to be unhealthy due to its carbohydrate content, it is not that simple. Not all carbs are created equal. Plus, there are different varieties of pasta and many different ways to incorporate them into a balanced diet.
Keep reading to learn all about which pasta is healthy and the many potential health benefits it has to offer, such as weight management, heart health, and more.
Is Pasta Healthy For You?
Yes, pasta can be healthy for you. It is a complex carbohydrate that has a low glycemic load. Eating complex carbohydrates with low glycemic loads has been shown to help with weight management and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses. Eating pasta in reasonable amounts with various other foods can be part of a healthy diet.
Nutritional Profile Of Pasta
Pasta is a dish that has been around since 5000 B.C. While pasta was originally made by grinding various grains together and mixing them with water before cooking, the main grain used today is durum wheat.
Specialty noodles may contain additional ingredients, such as eggs or vegetables. For example, some types of pasta are made with corn, legumes, beans, zucchini, or chickpeas. Alternative kinds of pasta may be made with different grains, such as rice or barley.
Nutritional Value Of Pasta
The most common types of dry pasta consumed in the United States are durum wheat pasta, also referred to as regular or white pasta, and whole-grain pasta.
Typically all dry pasta in the United States is fortified with iron and select B vitamins, such as riboflavin, thiamin, and folic acid. Of course, there is still some variation in the nutritional value of white pasta and whole-grain pasta.
Nutrition facts for one cup of cooked pasta with any noodle shape:
- Calories: 220 kilocalories
- Protein: 8.06 grams
- Fat: 1.29 grams
- Carbohydrates: 43 grams
- Fiber: 2.52 grams
- Sugars: 0.78 grams
- Iron: 1.78 milligrams
- Magnesium: 25.2 milligrams
- Potassium: 61.6 milligrams
- Phosphorous: 81.2 milligrams
- Thiamin: 0.38 milligrams
- Riboflavin: 0.19 milligrams
- Folate: 102 micrograms
Nutrition facts for one cup of cooked whole grain pasta with any noodle shape:
- Calories: 207 kilocalories
- Protein: 8.33 grams
- Fat: 2.38 grams
- Carbohydrates: 41.9 grams
- Fiber: 5.46 grams
- Sugars: 1.05 grams
- Iron: 2.39 milligrams
- Magnesium: 75.6 milligrams
- Potassium: 133 milligrams
- Phosphorous: 176 milligrams
- Thiamin: 0.22 milligrams
- Riboflavin: 0.14 milligrams
- Folate: 29.4 micrograms
While both types of pasta provide important nutrients and many essential vitamins and minerals, the primary difference between them is the amount each pasta contains. For example, whole grain pasta is higher in fiber, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous, whereas white pasta is higher in B vitamins. Your choice of pasta will depend on your individualized nutrition needs.
Is Pasta Healthy For You?
While we now know pasta is full of many essential vitamins and minerals, we can see that it is high in carbohydrates. Does this mean pasta is unhealthy?
To answer that question, we need to consider the type of carbohydrates being consumed when people eat pasta. Carbs are an essential macronutrient that provides energy for our bodies. They help control blood sugars and insulin metabolism, and they participate in blood cholesterol metabolism.
Carbs can be divided into two main classifications — simple and complex carbohydrates. Our bodies use the energy from simple carbs quickly, whereas complex carbs provide us with longer-lasting energy. Examples of simple carbs include foods like fruit, candy, sugar-sweetened beverages, sugar syrups, honey, and table sugar.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, chickpeas, and, of course, whole-grain pasta. Fiber is a non-digestible complex carbohydrate that can improve bowel regularity. Some sources of fiber include beans, seeds, and vegetables.
Assessing a carbohydrate’s glycemic index is an effective way to determine if it is an appropriate carb choice for your meal. The glycemic index measures the impact carbohydrate will have on one’s blood sugars. Low-glycemic foods have less impact on blood sugars than high-glycemic foods.
Pasta is considered a low-GI food, whereas foods with added sugars are typically high-GI foods. High-GI foods have been associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. In contrast, low-GI foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole-kernel grains tend to be protective.
Overall, research indicates replacing processed carbs, such as foods with added sugars, unprocessed carbs, or healthy fats, would benefit one’s health.
Benefits Of Pasta
A 2019 meta-analysis study investigated the effect of complex carbohydrates on the risk of heart disease. Researchers determined consuming diets containing complex carbohydrates with low glycemic load, such as pasta, was associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
These results indicate pasta can be heart-healthy. According to the 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health published by the American Heart Association, consuming whole-grain foods is considered heart-friendly and a good way to ensure you’re following a heart-healthy diet.
One thing to be mindful of is the sodium content of the pasta dishes you consume, as some sauces can be quite high in salt. The dietary guidelines recommend choosing foods with little to no salt. This translates into 2,300 mg of sodium with an optimal sodium restriction of 1,500 mg per day, according to the American Heart Association.
This does not mean pasta sauce isn’t part of a well-balanced diet. It’s just important to remember that some options may be high in sodium, so be sure to read the nutrition facts label or even try to make your pasta sauce from scratch at home.
A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis study assessed the impact of low glycemic load and index carbohydrates on glycemic control and cardiometabolic risk factors among individuals with diabetes.
The study found that following a low glycemic load or index dietary pattern was associated with beneficial changes in fasting blood sugar levels, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, body weight, body mass index, c-reactive protein, and systolic blood pressure.
These findings indicate that consuming pasta can be part of a diabetes-friendly diet and further reinforce the health benefits of consuming low-glycemic load carbohydrates.
While we now know pasta is good for chronic disease management, is pasta healthy for weight loss?
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the impact of consuming pasta in the context of a low glycemic index diet on body weight and markers of adiposity.
The study found pasta in the context of a low-glycemic index dietary pattern was associated with reduced body weight and body mass index when compared to higher glycemic index dietary patterns.
Another study completed in 2020 assessed the impact of high pasta consumption versus low pasta consumption while following a Mediterranean diet on body weight.
The study determined that regardless of pasta consumption, following a low-energy Mediterranean diet was associated with reduced body weight and improved glucose and lipid metabolism.
While some weight loss diets state you should avoid pasta, you do not need to avoid eating pasta to manage or lose weight. Finding a healthy diet that works for you in the long term is important for your overall health. If you have questions about your nutrition needs related to your weight loss goals, consider meeting with a registered dietitian.
Disadvantages Of Pasta
A major disadvantage of pasta doesn’t stem from the pasta itself but rather the portion sizes we are accustomed to consuming in North America.
Research has shown that portion sizes have been increasing since the late 1970s and have been growing ever since. And unfortunately, large portion sizes are associated with overeating and obesity.
Although it has proven difficult to identify the causal relationship between portion sizes and chronic effects on body weight, there is evidence that larger portion sizes are associated with higher energy intake, meaning high-calorie consumption.
Rather than asking questions such as ”Is spaghetti healthy?” or “Is pasta salad healthy?” Instead, consider the quantity of pasta you are consuming.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, MyPlate model, only one-quarter of your plate should be comprised of grains. This means the other quarter of your plate is protein, and the remaining half is made up of vegetables and fruits.
Try to avoid overconsuming pasta and other carbohydrate-rich foods. Remember that balanced meals are key to maintaining a healthy diet that supports weight loss efforts and helps with weight maintenance.
Tips For Eating Pasta In A Healthy Way
There are many delicious pasta dishes out there. Listed below are some examples you might consider trying at home.
- Add bow-tie whole-grain pasta noodles to a winter vegetable salad with homemade dressing.
- Used sesame soba noodles in a quick stir fry with your favorite vegetables.
- Spice up cooked spaghetti by adding homemade turkey meatballs topped with parmesan cheese.
- Add pasta shells to lentil soup for a balanced plant-based meal.
- Make traditional pasta from scratch at home and get the family involved in the cooking.
- Use leftover pasta in any vegetable-based soup to add additional texture.
- Sautee shrimp in olive oil and garlic and add linguine noodles.
Alternatives To Pasta
For some, a downside to pasta is that it contains gluten. Individuals living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities cannot eat pasta. Fortunately, many alternatives to pasta can be just as delicious. Some examples are:
- Zucchini noodles.
- Brown rice.
- Basmati rice.
- Spaghetti squash.
- Eggplant lasagna.
- Cabbage noodles.
- Cauliflower rice.
- Bean sprouts.
The Bottom Line
Including pasta in a well-balanced diet and appropriate portion sizes will not directly cause you to gain body fat or lead to weight gain. It is a complex carbohydrate that can be an acceptable part of a healthy diet when eaten in appropriate quantities alongside other nutritious foods.
If you love pasta, feel free to continue eating it. If you have questions about its role in your overall health, consider meeting with your registered dietitian. And if you ever get tired of wheat pasta, you can always try out some of the pasta alternatives listed above.
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