With certain foods, it’s easy to definitively say whether the food is healthy or unhealthy. For example, almost everyone can agree that spinach is healthy and fruit roll-ups are unhealthy.
However, the term “healthy” is somewhat subjective. What may be healthy for one person may not be healthy for another, depending on your caloric needs, dietary goals, and overall health.
So, what about pasta, specifically? Is spaghetti healthy? Is pasta healthy?
In general, pasta can be a healthy food, but it can also be unhealthy, depending not only on your dietary needs and health status but also on the type and quantity of pasta you are eating.
Pasta is rich in carbohydrates, but the quality of the carbohydrates and overall pasta nutrition facts will depend on the type of pasta that you are consuming.
In this guide we will cover:
- What Is Pasta?
- Pasta Nutrition Facts
- Benefits of Eating Pasta
- Is Pasta Healthy?
Let’s dive in!
What Is Pasta?
It may seem like a silly question, but what is pasta? The answer actually isn’t all that simple because there are many different types of pasta.
However, what we typically think of as pasta is a carbohydrate-rich noodle that’s usually made from durum wheat. It may or may not also be made with eggs.
Different types of pasta will be processed in different ways, changing the nutrient profile by either removing the bran to have white pasta or keeping the bran for whole wheat pasta.
Pasta may also be made from other grains such as rice, buckwheat, corn, semolina, or a combination of different grains.
There are also pasta noodles that are made from legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, soybeans, and green peas.
Legume-based pasta is gluten-free and offers a more balanced nutritional profile with much more protein than traditional wheat-based pasta.
Many of the alternatives are also gluten-free, so rice noodles or buckwheat noodles are good pasta alternatives for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Pasta may or may not be enriched with additional vitamins and minerals, which will also change the pasta nutrition facts. Refined white pasta is often enriched to add the B vitamins and iron back in after they have been stripped away during the refining process.
The pasta noodles are formed into different shapes and then cooked in boiling water. Although far from an exhaustive list, common pasta shapes include spaghetti, penne, fettuccine, macaroni, orzo, ravioli, and rotini.
Pasta Nutrition Facts
Except in cases where the pasta is filled—such as with ravioli or tortellini—the shape of the pasta will not affect the pasta calories or pasta nutrition facts. Rather, it is the ingredients themselves that affect the nutrition of pasta.
Ravioli and tortellini are two of the most commonly filled kinds of pasta. These types of pasta may have a meat or cheese filling or a combination of both.
The other factor that significantly impacts pasta nutrition facts is the way in which the pasta is served.
Pasta usually has some sort of sauce or topping, such as marinara sauce, which is a tomato-based sauce; Alfredo sauce, which is a cream-based sauce; or pesto, which is an olive oil and basil-based sauce.
There are also cheese sauces or cheeses that may be added to pasta, along with all types of meat, vegetables, spices, and other ingredients that will all change the pasta nutrition facts of the dish overall.
The following shows pasta calories and pasta nutrition facts for one serving of common products:
|Whole-Wheat Spaghetti||Refined/Enriched Spaghetti||Chickpea Pasta||Protein Plus Pasta|
|Protein||7.5 grams||8.1 grams||14 grams||10 grams|
|Carbs||37 grams||43 grams||32 grams||39 grams|
|Fiber||6 grams||2.5 grams||8 grams||4 grams|
|Fat||0.8 grams||1.3 grams||3.5 grams||1 gram|
|Manganese||97% of the RDI||23% of the RDI|
|Selenium||52% of the RDI||53% of the RDI|
|Copper||12% of the RDI||7% of the RDI|
|Phosphorus||12% of the RDI||8% of the RDI||20% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||11% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
|Thiamin (B1)||10% of the RDI||26% of the RDI||40% of the RDI|
|Folate (B9)||2% of the RDI||26% of the RDI||50% of the RDI|
|Niacin (B3)||5% of the RDI||12% of the RDI||30% of the RDI|
|Riboflavin (B2)||4% of the RDI||11% of the RDI||15% of the RDI|
|Iron||8% of the RDI||10% of the RDI||30% of the RDI||10% of the RDI|
|Potassium||50% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
Benefits of Eating Pasta
There can be benefits of eating pasta; however, pasta benefits are almost entirely attributable to whole grain pasta (such as whole wheat pasta) or legume-based pasta rather than refined pasta.
#1: Whole Grain Pasta May Help Support Overall Health
Overall, studies have shown that diets high in whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta, are associated with reducing the risk of certain risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure and chronic inflammation, and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
Whole wheat pasta and legume pasta are high in fiber, providing 6-8 grams per serving.
Fiber is a component of complex carbohydrates that provides numerous health benefits, including feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut, improving digestion, increasing feelings of satiety and reducing appetite, and bulking up stool to promote bowel regularity.
Studies also suggest that high-fiber diets help reduce the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
#2: Whole Grain Pasta May Help Support a Healthy Weight
Although the overall direction of your weight is primarily dependent on the relative relationship between the number of calories you are consuming versus the number of calories you are burning, certain foods can be better for supporting weight loss or healthy weight management by promoting satiety.
For example, studies have found consuming more whole grains in the diet is associated with having a lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference relative to diets that include fewer whole grains.
Keep in mind that this is correlation and not demonstrative of a causation. However, it may indicate that eating whole grains can help support a healthier body weight.
Consuming whole wheat pasta or pasta made from legumes may help promote a healthy weight because whole wheat pasta and chickpea or other legume pasta are high in fiber and protein.
These two nutrients have been shown to increase feelings of fullness and help manage appetite levels.
There’s also some evidence to suggest eating more protein can provide a slight metabolic boost because it takes more calories to digest and absorb protein.
Because fiber slows the passage of your digestive tract, eating whole wheat pasta or pasta high in fiber (such as noodles made from legumes) can increase feelings of fullness and can stave off your appetite for your subsequent meal.
Furthermore, studies have found that fiber may promote weight loss, even in the absence of other dietary changes.
Therefore, adding high-fiber foods, such as whole wheat pasta, may help support your weight goals.
Is Pasta Healthy?
So, after looking at the nutrition facts and benefits, is spaghetti healthy?
Although whole-grain pasta or whole wheat pasta is more nutritious because it retains the nutrient-rich bran of the wheat grain, many people prefer to eat refined white pasta. Even when this type of pasta has been enriched with vitamins and minerals, refined pasta is less nutrient dense because it contains less fiber and protein.
As such, refined pasta is typically less filling than whole-wheat pasta. Fiber and protein have been shown to increase satiety while providing other health benefits.
For example, one study compared the satiety and impact on appetite between eating refined vs whole-grain pasta.
Results suggested that whole-grain pasta increased feelings of fullness and decreased appetite more than refined pasta.
Refined pasta should also be avoided because it essentially acts like simple sugar in the body and can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and a resultant spike in insulin.
Overall, whole-grain pasta can be healthy in moderation, though keep in mind that pasta is relatively high in calories.
Try to be an informed consumer. Pay attention to the ingredient list and nutrition facts on a pasta product before you purchase it.
You can find many healthy kinds of pasta, as well as refined pasta that is little more than empty calories that act just like sugar in your body.
It’s important to not only pay attention to the number of calories and the number of grams of protein in the pasta you buy, but also to the amount of fiber, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
To optimize your nutrition, consider alternatives to eating pasta every day, including zucchini noodles, legume pasta, and other whole grains like freekeh, quinoa, amaranth, and teff.
If you are interested in reading up on more of your favorite foods, you can find a wide variety of our nutrition guides in our very own database.