Pasta is a global favorite, but not all pasta is alike. Whole-grain pasta has a chewier texture than regular pasta, but it's also more nutrient-rich. Whole-grain pasta wins out over regular pasta every time as your healthiest choice. If you're having trouble making the switch to whole-grain pasta, start with a half-and-half blend of the two pastas and increase the percentage of whole-grain pasta each time you cook it.
Milled vs. Unmilled
All grains are whole before they are milled or refined. Whole grains contain an inner layer called the germ, a middle layer called the endosperm and an outer layer of bran. When whole grains go through the milling or refining process, the nutritious bran and germ are removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm, which is what regular white pasta is made from. Check the ingredients list on the pasta food label to ensure the words "whole grain," "whole wheat" or another whole grain is listed as the predominant ingredient.
Whole-grain pasta beats regular pasta when it comes to fiber content. A 1-cup serving of cooked whole-grain pasta contains 3.9 total grams of fiber, while the same amount of white pasta contains 2.3 grams. Fiber is the part of a plant food that your body can't digest. It is crucial to a healthy diet because it helps move food waste through your digestive tract, reducing constipation. It helps lower blood pressure and also helps keep your body's blood sugar levels stable.
Regular pasta may be fortified with iron and other nutrients, which means that certain nutrients like B vitamins and folate that were removed during the refining process are added back into the pasta. While the carbohydrate and fat content of both pastas is similar, whole-wheat pasta provides the most protein, and the calcium content for whole-wheat pasta is double that of regular. While a 2-ounce serving of regular pasta contains 108 milligrams of phosphorus and 30 milligrams of magnesium, its whole-wheat counterpart contains 147 milligrams of phosphorus and 82 milligrams of magnesium. Phosphorus helps build and protect your bones and teeth. Magnesium is crucial for many chemical reactions in your body.
Resistant Starch Effects
When certain starch-rich foods, such as pasta, are cooked and then cooled, their starch changes form, making it more resistant to digestion. Resistant starch, which is a form of fiber, helps maintain good colon health and low blood cholesterol levels. To get the most benefits from nutrients and resistant starch, it's best to choose whole-grain pasta instead of pasta made from refined white flour. A cold pasta salad makes an excellent resistant-starch choice.
Glycemic Index Rankings
While the glycemic index, which refers to the effect food has on your body's blood sugar levels, ranks both regular pasta and whole-wheat pasta in the low range -- under 50 -- the whole-wheat variety still comes out the winner with a GI of 37 compared to regular pasta with a GI of 41. Overcooking your pasta swells and gelatinizes its starch grains, making them more available for digestive enzymes. This increases the food's GI. Serve your pasta al dente -- firm to the bite -- so that it is digested more slowly.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Dry, Enriched
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Whole-Wheat, Dry
- University of Georgia: The University Healthy Center: Whole-Grain Goodness
- University of Washington: Northwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury System: Fiber Facts
- Harvard Health Publications: Listing of Vitamins
- American Heart Association: Technique, Cooking Whole Grains
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology: Resistant Starch
- University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: Department of Family Medicine: Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load
- University of Michigan: Department of Family Medicine: Glycemic Index
- Georgetown University: Georgetown Food Studies: Manipulating Glycemic Index