Wheat pasta is an alternative to white, or refined, pasta. Depending on the ingredients and the manufacturing of the pasta, the wheat variety may be a more viable choice than its refined counterpart. When purchasing any packaged food, it is imperative to read the label and ingredients list. Not only will this help you select wholesome and healthy foods, but it also will help you identify ingredients that can be misleading if you do not understand them.
Types of Wheat Pasta
Perhaps the most confusing element of wheat pasta is when the ingredients list names "semolina from durum wheat" first. For the average consumer, the use of the word wheat is extremely misleading -- you may walk away with the product thinking you are buying a "better" choice. Semolina is somewhat comparable to bleached wheat flour in that it is stripped of much of its nutrients and minerals. Semolina, however, does contain some essential vitamins and minerals, but the amounts are negligible, especially in comparison with the whole-wheat variety. Unlike bleached pasta or semolina, whole-wheat pasta does not go through a refining or milling process. This keeps the nutritional value optimal.
Although the caloric value of bleached, whole-wheat and semolina pasta is basically the same, about 175 calories per cup, the defining health factors are the contained vitamins and nutrients. The fat and carbohydrate content is also similar, about 2 g of fat and 144 g of carbohydrates per cup. Bleached pasta is a simple carbohydrate, which quickly metabolizes and breaks down into sugar leading to blood sugar spikes. Unless the bleached pasta is enriched, which aims to replenish the nutrients lost during the refining process, the pasta lacks any nutritive value. Even if the pasta is enriched, however, the added nutrients are insignificant in comparison with its initial content.
The most important component in choosing a healthy pasta is the fiber content. Semolina and bleached pasta have similar dietary fiber amounts, 5 g for bleached and 8 g for semolina per cup. Whole-wheat pasta, however, contains an impressive 24 g per serving. Men and women should consume between 25 g to 38 g of fiber a day. Whole-wheat pasta is far superior in delivering minerals and vitamins as well. For example, white pasta and semolina deliver only 98 mg of magnesium, whole wheat pasta provides 276 mg per cup -- almost three times as much. This trend continues with additional nutrients, such as B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.
Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar in the blood, which helps prevent sugar spikes and the development of insulin-related diseases, like diabetes. The most highlighted feature of pasta should be the fiber content, especially because of the high amount of carbohydrate. Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol, regulate digestion and encourage weight loss and maintenance. B-complex vitamins are required for a healthy metabolic rate, enhance immunity and the nervous system, encourage cell growth and development and may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Essential minerals, such as selenium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and phosphorous, support brain function, tissue, bone and muscle synthesis and protect your vital organs, among an array of additional uses. Unprocessed, whole grains deliver healthy components in abundance in comparison with semolina and bleached pasta.
The bottom line is that whole-grain wheat pasta is definitely healthy. Bleached wheat pasta and semolina pasta are nutritionally comparable and should be avoided, Dr. Denice Cook says in "Choose Life." Instead, select whole-grain wheat pasta in any form, whether it is spaghetti, linguini, angel hair or macaroni. Consuming a healthy amount of complex carbohydrate is essential and beneficial to your health.
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber -- Essential for a Healthy Diet
- MayoClinic.com: Whole Grains -- Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet
- "Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings"; Michele Scicolone, et al.; 2005
- "Choose Life"; Denice Cook, M.D.; 2010