Ask the RD
Question: There are so many choices of pasta in the supermarket now—whole wheat, bean pasta, gluten free and vegetable pasta. How do they compare?
Answer: With multiple options for your pasta dinner, deciding which to choose can be a challenge. I compared 100-gram servings of a variety of dry pastas, including traditional/regular pasta, regular pasta with added spinach, whole-wheat pasta, bean- or legume-based pasta, pasta made with rice or corn, and fresh veggie spirals made from butternut squash (ESHA). One hundred grams is a little over 3 ounces.
Pasta ranges from 320 to 380 kilocalories per serving. Vegetables are very high in water compared with dry pasta, which means they are much lower in kilocalories, at about 45 per 100 g. Grain-based pastas—whether wheat, rice or corn—have about 75 g of carbohydrate. Legume-based pastas are closer to 30 g, and vegetable varieties have less than 15 g.
Legume pasta is highest in protein, with more than 40 g, compared with 10–15 g in wheat-based pastas. Lowest in protein are corn and rice pastas, with 5–10 g, and vegetable spirals, with less than 2 g. Legume pasta has the most fiber, with around 20 g, while traditional pasta and rice pastas (both brown and white) have 3 g or less. Corn and whole-wheat pastas have close to 10 g of fiber. Legume pasta is also highest in iron and calcium.
What about pasta with added vegetables, such as spinach? That spinach isn’t contributing significant fiber, but it does bump up the vitamin A. Regular pasta has almost no vitamin A, whereas spinach pasta has about 300 IU. But spinach pasta can’t complete with butternut squash spirals, which have more than 10,000 IU.
Once you have decided which pasta to bring home, the next challenge is cooking and saucing it. Different flavors and textures need different treatment. Pasta without wheat, for example, tends to fall apart because it lacks gluten (Laleg 2016), and is best served immediately rather than reheated or baked into a casserole. Whole-wheat pasta’s slight bitterness may be accentuated by classic, acidic tomato sauce, but that earthy flavor pairs perfectly with the umami taste of mushrooms or the sweetness of winter squash.