A Healthier Bowl of Pasta

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

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

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.

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 oz. dry) Calories Fiber Protein Fat Bonus?
Barilla Plus Spaghetti 210 4g 10g 2g 0.2 g plant omega-3
Westbrae Natural Organic Whole Wheat Lasagna 210 6g 8g 1.5g  
Lifestream Organic Whole Grain & Flax Linguini 208 8g 9g 3.5g 0.7 g plant omega-3
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle Pasta 210 5g 8g 1.5g  

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.



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