Healthier Pasta: Why You Should Be Eating Whole Grain Pasta
By Carlton Ryan
Pasta is a delicious and consequently highly popular food. However, pasta is also not particularly healthy since it is high in carbohydrates and has little nutritional value. Eating pasta isn’t terrible for you, but it certainly won’t make you healthier, either. But, what if there was a way to make pasta nutritious? As it turns out, there is a kind of pasta that is better for you: whole-grain pasta. Whole-grain pastas allow you to enjoy the wonderful taste of your favorite pasta dish without guilt.
The issue with normal pasta is that it is made with processed, refined wheat flour. When wheat is refined (or milled), it loses most of its nutritional value. In its natural form, a kernel of wheat is surrounded by the bran and the germ. When refined, these elements are removed from the wheat. Unfortunately, the bran and the germ are just about the only healthy parts of the grain.
Unrefined wheat is high in fiber and contains various vitamins and minerals that are not found in the milled version of wheat. During the manufacturing process, some nutrients are re-added to refined wheat via a chemical process — thus the term ‘enriched’ wheat. Unfortunately, the number of nutrients added still falls far short of the original totals.
The answer to nutrition-poor refined wheat pasta is high-in-nutrient whole-grain pasta. Whole-grain pastas preserve the intrinsic integrity of the wheat kernel, resulting in a healthier, more natural product. All across the board, whole-grain pasta outperforms refined wheat pasta in terms of health.
Whole-grain pastas can have double or even triple the dietary fiber of milled wheat pasta. This fact is significant because fiber is necessary for a healthy digestive system. Fiber takes a long time to digest, which can reduce hunger. The substance also helps regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Whole-grain pasta also has more protein than regular pasta , twice as much calcium, and significantly higher totals of minerals like phosphorus, copper, selenium, manganese, and magnesium. Regular pasta also has fewer B vitamins, which are needed for the nervous system and a healthy metabolism.
Shopping for whole-grain pasta can be made tricky by the labeling applied to pastas, which can be confusing or deceptive. You’ll probably have to examine the nutrition facts to be sure of what you’re getting. Make sure that ‘whole-grain’ or ‘whole wheat’ is actually listed as one of the primary ingredients.
Okay, better nutritional value is well and good — but what about the flavor? If whole-grain pasta can’t match the famous taste of traditional pasta, it wouldn’t be superior at all. The bad news is that whole-grain pasta does taste different from its processed cousin. The good news is that the difference is relatively slight, so much so that some people may not notice it at all.
Whole-grain pastas are generally chewier and have a thicker, coarser texture. Otherwise, the two types of pasta are about the same. Still, quality and flavor can vary considerably between brands. If you try one whole-grain pasta brand and can’t stand it, give a competitor or two a try before you give up. The better brands are close to indistinguishable from refined pasta.
Some people still won’t be able to stand the difference in texture, but most of us can make the switch no problem. If you have trouble changing, try pastas that blend whole-grain and refined flour together. These will be healthier while still retaining some of the characteristics of fully milled pasta. Pasta blends can be used as a stepping stone to 100% whole-grain, or as a permanent diet choice.
If you’re concerned about price, don’t be. Whole-grain pastas do cost more, but the difference isn’t significant. Pasta is so cheap as it is — a slight increase in price in exchange for greatly enhanced nutritional value is a good deal.
Whole-grain pasta is a diet choice you can be proud of. It can actually confer positive health benefits, while normal pasta is neutral to health at best. Pasta is a much-loved and commonly eaten food, so eating a healthier version can have a significant effect on your health. When buying pasta, opt for natural, healthy — but still tasty — whole-grain pasta.