You may not need convincing to eat more pasta or to know that it really is the ideal blank canvas for all sorts of culinary masterpieces. (For proof, here are 10 creative and easy pasta recipes). But recent research has shown that this simple food base could be the key to a healthier diet.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the Frontiers in Nutrition, looked at the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey dataset to compare pasta eaters to non-pasta eaters. What they found was that the people who had pasta in their diets consumed more nutrients that Americans generally fall short on and also tended to consume less added sugar (equal to more than three teaspoons a day) and fewer saturated fats.
The key nutrients that pasta eaters ate more of included dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin E. The study also found that eating pasta did not equate to more calories, sodium, or fat intake.
“It’s easy to make healthy meals with pasta, especially if you focus on healthy ingredients like vegetables, beans, and lean proteins,” says Diane Welland, a registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition Communications for the National Pasta Association. It’s important to note that the study was funded by the National Pasta Association, though they were not involved in the research or analysis.
For future studies, researchers would like to look at the direct correlation between pasta and other food groups. But just by looking at recipes that follow the Mediterranean diet and other pasta recipes, it’s easy to see how pasta eaters are also getting more vegetables, seafood, lean meats, beans, and legumes.
Buying Pasta Products
While the study does not go into how pasta itself is a healthy choice, runners are certainly acquainted with the importance of carbohydrates as a fuel for training.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of our total grain intake comes from whole grains, but only about two to seven percent of people meet that criteria. Buying whole-grain pasta can be an easy way to start integrating more healthful grains that are full of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium. “For whole-grain pastas, look for how much dietary fiber is on the label,” says Welland. The recommended daily intake for women under 50 is 21 to 25 grams per day.
If you’re getting your whole grains elsewhere throughout the day and would rather eat a refined white pasta, Welland recommends looking for an enriched version that has nutrients added back in. “For enriched white pastas, look for three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin), iron, and folic acid, which is critical in the prevention of some birth defects,” she says.
Now there are also all kinds of pastas made from vegetables or chickpeas, but they tend to be a little pricier than grain-based versions. “For those people who want to try something different and can afford it, legume-based pastas are certainly another option, especially for those who want to up their protein,” says Welland. Some chickpea pastas can have anywhere from 10 to 24 grams of protein on their own.