While zoodles’ (zucchini noodles) are popular among the low-carb diet folks, good old-fashioned noodles aren’t going anywhere. Noodles are an inexpensive, versatile, complex carbohydrate that is enjoyed across the globe. And they should be.
The noodle has come a long way. While noodles originated in China, Italy is often cited as their birthplace. Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes and may be made from various grains including wheat, rice, corn, and quinoa.
Traditional noodles or pasta is made from durum or semolina wheat. What we typically eat in the US is refined white pasta that’s enriched with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron. Higher fiber, whole wheat varieties are available and provide three times the fiber of traditional pasta. In addition, for those following a gluten-free diet, new forms of pasta made from beans, lentils, or soy may be incorporated into their diets.
Though people may frown on white pasta, it’s still a complex carbohydrate that provides energy, B vitamins, and trace minerals. For people dealing with food insecurity, it may be the only pasta they have. Whole grain, 100% whole wheat, or legume-based pasta provides more fiber, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc. Calorie and carb counts are roughly equal- 200 calories and 40 grams of carbs per serving.
Pasta intake (of any kind) has been found to improve overall nutrient intake based on a NHANES study. Consumers of pasta or noodles had a 5.6% higher HEI (healthy eating index) than non-pasta eaters. Those who reported eating pasta, noodles, and pasta mixed dishes (excluding mac and cheese) had 11-13.6% higher intakes of dietary fiber.1
Consuming whole grain pasta may aid in appetite reduction. A few small studies have indicated that post-prandial appetite is reduced with the intake of whole-grain pasta versus white pasta. Satiety was improved and the desire to eat was lower in whole grain pasta eaters in 2 studies.2, 3 More research in this area is needed to confirm if this impacts energy balance and weight reduction.
New forms of pasta made of beans are a good choice for individuals wanting a gluten-free option or more fiber. A recent study also found that pasta made with legumes contained higher
phenol, antioxidant, and fiber content than traditional pasta. The glycemic index of lentil and legume pasta was also lower.4
There are so many fun ways to use pasta, how do I count them all? Here’s a start:
- For starters, choose whole grain or whole wheat pasta when you have the option.
- Use whole-wheat soba noodles in soup with lots of vegetables and broth.
- Make pasta salad with rotini or spiral noodles. Add spinach, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and avocado with olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette.
- Toss pasta in pesto with cannellini or Navy beans for a delicious meatless meal.
- Use whole-wheat couscous in place of rice in soup.
- Add leftover macaroni to your tuna, chicken, or egg salad to stretch it.
- Try lentil or legume-based pasta in your next dish. You may like it!
- Make ramen with fresh ramen noodles topped with plenty of veggies, broth, and lean protein.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Fulgoni VL 3rd, Bailey R. Association of Pasta Consumption with Diet Quality and Nutrients of Public Health Concern in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2012. Curr Dev Nutr. 2017 Sep 19;1(10)
- Cioffi I, Santarpia L, Vaccaro A, Iacone R, Labruna G, Marra M, Contaldo F, Kristensen M, Pasanisi F. Whole-grain pasta reduces appetite and meal-induced thermogenesis acutely: a pilot study. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Mar;41(3):277-83
- Costabile G, Griffo E, Cipriano P, Vetrani C, Vitale M, Mamone G, Rivellese AA, Riccardi G, Giacco R. Subjective satiety and plasma PYY concentration after wholemeal pasta. Appetite. 2018 Jun 1;125:172-181. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.02.004. Epub 2018 Feb 7.
- Turco I, Bacchetti T, Morresi C, Padalino L, Ferretti G. Polyphenols and the glycaemic index of legume pasta. Food Funct. 2019 Sep 1;10(9):5931-5938.