If you’ve gone down the pasta aisle recently, you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of new choices, including pasta from more nutritious ingredients like whole-wheat flour, chickpeas, brown rice and legumes.
But are they really healthier?
Traditionally, pasta is made from milled durum wheat, which is a refined flour that has the bran and germ (the healthy parts) removed. What’s left is the endosperm, but the fiber and some vitamins are stripped away in the process. This is the case with white bread and rice. In the United States, many nutrients, including niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folate and iron, are added back through fortification.
Whole-wheat pasta retains most of the bran and germ. It’s a more textured and hearty pasta, with twice the fiber and iron of enriched (regular) pasta. If you’re not crazy about the texture and slightly nutty taste, take a baby step and mix your whole-wheat pasta with traditional white pasta.
Those other pastas on the market are made from a mix of flours, such as corn, brown rice, lentils and beans. Pastas from lentil flour can be much higher in protein than white or whole-wheat pastas.
Some, like chickpea pasta, can be higher in protein and fiber. Vegetable pastas, such as spinach or tomato, may or may not have a nutrient boost over traditional pasta. And brown rice pasta, while lower in fiber than whole-wheat, may appeal to you if you’re wanting a gluten-free pasta.
So, what should you choose? Hands down, whole-wheat pasta with its natural fiber, vitamins and minerals is a great choice. The nonwheat pastas, such as chickpea or lentil, can also be a good choice if you like the taste and texture and if you’re looking for a plant-based source of protein. However, if you plan to add a protein to your pasta dish, the extra protein in the chickpea pasta may be overkill.
The bottom line? Choose whatever pasta you prefer, and make your portions reasonable. Then add plenty of vegetables, a healthy protein (shrimp, chicken or beans) and sauces that do not pile on the sodium or fat (think red over white).
Pasta of all kinds can certainly fit into a healthy eating plan. The key is keeping to a good serving size (about one cup cooked) and healthy toppings.
Q: My friends are cutting out dairy. Should I?
A: If it agrees with you and you have no specific medical reason to avoid dairy, such as being lactose intolerant, then no, keep eating dairy. It is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium.
Many people who are lactose intolerant find that they can eat certain types — often yogurt and hard cheeses — without problems, so it’s worth experimenting. And there is a way to help lactose intolerance: by eating small amounts of milk with meals to build up your tolerance. If you do cut back on dairy, make sure you get enough vitamins, minerals and protein from other sources.
Very Berry Quinoa Muffins
Here is a great way to start the morning: Very Berry Quinoa Muffins. They get a nutrition boost from almond flour, yogurt, berries and quinoa. The recipe is from Good Housekeeping magazine.
» ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
» 1 cup almond flour
» ¼ cup white quinoa (raw)
» 1 teaspoon baking powder
» 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
» ½ teaspoon ground ginger
» ½ teaspoon baking soda
» ½ teaspoon kosher salt
» 2 large eggs, beaten
» 1 cup plain yogurt
» ¼ cup whole milk
» ⅓ cup honey
» 2 (6-ounce) containers small raspberries
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray, and dust with flour. In large bowl, whisk together flours, quinoa, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and salt. In medium bowl, whisk eggs, yogurt, milk and honey. Fold egg mixture into flour mixture until just combined and then stir in raspberries.
Divide batter among muffin-pan cups, and bake until toothpick inserted into centers of muffins comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Serving size: 12 muffins
Per muffin: 170 calories; 6 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat); 3 grams fiber; 205 milligrams sodium.
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.