Demystifying the Pasta Aisle

Demystifying the Pasta Aisle

Traditional wheat flour pastas are certainly a staple of the American diet, but a growing variety of vegetable- and bean-based pastas are appearing on supermarket shelves, providing tough competition and, some argue, a healthier option.

In today’s article, we will discuss some of the most popular pastas now available and their similarities and differences.

Vegetable-based Pasta: Vegetable-based pastas are viewed (and promoted) as healthy pastas that provide a simple approach to increase vegetable consumption. However, because vegetables are often added to these pasta products as powders or purées, the fiber content, vitamins, and minerals may be significantly lower than that of whole vegetables. While the ingredient list reveals the vegetables the pastas are made from, they don’t always show how much of a given vegetable that the product actually contains. Therefore, it’s important to make room for vegetables in their whole form, rather than relying on pasta as a vegetable serving. Additionally, for those with diabetes or those following a low-carb diet, vegetable pasta should be consumed/factored into your diet like you would for regular pasta.

Bean-based Pasta: Pastas made from chickpeas, lentils, edamame or black beans have more protein, fiber, and iron than regular pasta. That’s because this type of pasta is made from… you guessed it, beans! Some bean-based pastas provide as much as 25g protein in each 2-oz serving. For comparison, a 3-oz serving of chicken breast contains 16g protein. Additionally, bean-based pasta has significantly more fiber than whole wheat pastas. Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of the recommended daily fiber intake in each 2-oz dry portion while bean-based pastas can supply up to 50% of the recommended 25g fiber per day.

Whole-grain Pasta: The bran and germ of the grain are included in whole-grain pasta, providing dietary fiber. For example, a serving of whole-wheat spaghetti contains 6 grams of fiber, while regular pasta contains only 2.5 grams. Additionally, whole-grain pasta also contains more protein, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus than regular pasta. This option will leave you feeling fuller for longer due to the increased fiber and protein content when compared to traditional pasta. The best way to identify a whole-grain pasta is to read the nutrition label. The first item in the ingredient list of a whole-grain pasta will say “whole-wheat flour” or it will say 100% whole grain on the package.

What about Gluten?

Many people assume that vegetable- and bean-based pastas are great gluten-free alternatives, however, this isn’t always the case. The majority of these alternative pastas use wheat flour as well as veggies or beans and only a handful are actually gluten-free certified. While most bean-based pastas are gluten-free, you can only be sure by reading the ingredient list and looking for the gluten-free mark on the package!

Bottom Line: There is currently no published research on the nutritional impact of replacing typical durum wheat pastas with vegetable/bean-based pastas. To maximize your nutrient intake, find your favorite pasta, and pair it with a serving (or two) of vegetables!


Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian/ Consultant