Ask the Nutritionist: Is Pasta Healthy?

by Carla Henderson

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When people think of healthy food to eat, images of veggies, baked fish and other typical health foods usually pop into peoples’ minds. But when it comes to whether pasta is a healthy food choice, the answer becomes a little less black and white, in part thanks to the bad rap this food has received over the years. 

But is pasta really the decadent food that should be avoided when you are following a healthy lifestyle? Or is pasta healthy and a part of a balanced and good-for-you diet? To find out, we dug into the research to get to the bottom of it. 

Pasta Consumption May Have Heart-Health Benefits 

We all know that participating in physical activity and avoiding cigarettes can help keep your heart healthy and strong . But less known is that eating pasta may help keep your ticker in tiptop shape, too. 

Results from a study published in  BMJ Nutrition, Prevention Health   showed that postmenopausal women who ate more than three servings of pasta a week had a reduced long-term risk of experiencing a stroke and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Other data shows that eating pasta may help  people better adhere to the Mediterranean diet — a dietary pattern that is linked to heart-health benefits. 

  Pasta Provides Sustainable Energy 

It is true that pasta is a refined carbohydrate . And it is also true that many refined carbohydrates are void of important nutrients and therefore should be limited, no matter how delicious they are. (We’re looking at you, donuts and cookies.)

But pasta is a unique refined carbohydrate source thanks to the protein structure that it contains, making it digest more slowly and result in a lower blood glucose response when compared with foods  like white bread potato or rice . And it’s made with just two ingredients: enriched durum semolina flour and water. 

This slow digestion factor has resulted in pasta being assigned a lower glycemic index and glycemic load score compared with other major sources of carbohydrates .

Eating foods with a lower glycemic index can promote satiety and help people experience long-lasting energy instead of a blood sugar spike with a subsequent dip that may occur when high glycemic foods are eaten.   

Pasta Contains Important Nutrients

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half the grains you eat come from whole-grain sources, with the other half coming from enriched options, like pasta.

When you are eating pasta, you are not eating a bowl of empty calories by any means. Enriched pasta is a nutritious complex carbohydrate containing 50 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of folate, and it’s a good source of iron (10 percent DV) and fiber (11 percent DV) per serving. Plus, this staple carb contains calcium, magnesium and a slew of other micronutrients that our bodies need in order to stay healthy.   

It May Help You Eat a Healthier Diet Overall

Is eating pasta the secret to eating a higher-quality diet? According to results published in  Frontiers in Nutrition , it may be true. The simple act of eating pasta was linked to better diet quality versus non-pasta eaters, according to the study. 

And when it comes to eating certain nutrients, according to the same study, pasta eaters tend to eat more dietary fiber, folate, iron, magnesium and vitamin E when compared to non-consumers of pasta. 

So Yes, Pasta Can Be a Healthy Addition to Your Diet

If you are a pasta lover, rejoice in knowing that you don’t have to give up your beloved staple when you are trying to follow a healthy diet. 

Sure, eating over-the-top portions of pasta along with fatty meats like sausage won’t do wonders for your health goals. But eating an appropriate portion size — about 1 cup of cooked pasta — along with lean protein, vegetables and virgin olive oil can be a balanced, satisfying and nutrient-dense dish.