January 21, 2018
Whole Grain Pasta Tips

Whole Grain Pasta Tips

by Berkeley Wellness  

Whole-grain foods, which retain the bran and germ of the kernel and thus all the fiber and most nutrients, have been linked to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Because the fiber in whole grains makes you feel full longer, they may also help with weight control. In contrast, refined grains lose much of their fiber and nutrients during processing. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines thus recommend that at least half the grains we eat be whole grains. That’s at least three servings a day for someone eating 2,000 calories a day.

One good way to get more whole grains into your diet is to switch to whole-grain pasta. Regular pasta is made with semolina flour, which has been milled from durum wheat and is always refined flour. Once found only in health-food stores, healthier whole-grain pastas are now in mainstream markets. Barilla, Mueller's, and Ronzoni, for example, now make pastas containing whole grains. And with improved technology, many of them are less chewy and gummy than they used to be.

Whole-grain pasta is not limited to whole wheat. For instance, you can also find pastas made from spelt, quinoa, kamut, amaranth, and buckwheat (soba noodles)—a nice change of pace from regular pasta, and one that may be a boon for people with wheat allergies or gluten sensitivity. Some pastas combine different grains; a few contain flaxseeds, a source of plant omega-3 fats (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), though usually in small amounts.

How to make the most of your pasta

✓ Look for "whole" at the top of the ingredient list. If all the grains listed are whole, the pasta is 100% whole grain. But some pastas that claim to be whole grain are blends of whole and refined grains, sometimes with oat or wheat fiber added to boost the fiber. Barilla Whole Grain Pasta, for example, clearly states that it is only 51% whole wheat. One clue that wheat has been refined is the word "enriched" before "flour."

✓ Compare fiber levels. Whole-grain pastas tend to have about two to three times more fiber than regular pasta (4 to 7 grams versus 2 grams per 2-ounce uncooked serving). Some—spelt, quinoa, and brown rice pasta—have only 2 or 3 grams, though they are still better choices than regular pasta.

✓ Don't assume that health-food brands or organic pastas are always whole-grain—even if their ingredients sound healthier. Pasta that says "100% durum semolina" or "golden amber durum wheat," for instance, is made from refined wheat flour.

✓ Don't assume that spinach and tomato pastas are whole-grain, either. They usually contain only traces of vegetables for coloring. Unless they are made from whole grains, they are no different nutritionally from regular pastas.

✓ If you don't like one brand, try another, since flavors and textures vary. The shape of the pasta can make a difference too. For a lighter texture, choose thin spaghetti, say, over penne or rotini, or try a whole-grain blend. And don't overcook—it can get mushy fast. Check frequently while cooking. Whole-grain pastas often pair better with heartier sauces, like a chunky vegetable or bean sauce.

Sealing the deal

Two seals can help point you to healthier pastas and other whole-grain products:

  • The black-and-gold Whole Grain Stamp from the nonprofit Whole Grains Council (see image below) means that the pasta has at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving. A 100% whole grain product will have at least 16 grams of whole grains per serving. The daily goal for most people is 48 grams. Don’t confuse this number with the grams of carbohydrates or fiber listed in the Nutrition Facts panel.

  • The AHA heart-check mark from the American Heart Association (see image below) means that at least 51% of the grains, by weight, are whole, and that a serving has at least 1.7 to 3 grams of fiber, depending on the serving size. The product must also be low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and meet other criteria.