Carbs get a lot of bad press. Pasta too. I have heard a lot of people say they have cut it out completely. Ditched it along with the bread. But is it really as bad for you as some might think?
Different types of pasta
As well as lots of different shapes of pasta (which, if you ask an Italian each marry perfectly with one of their sauces). Fusilli, penne and spaghetti tend to be the ones which are eaten most in the UK. There is no difference in the nutritional value of the different shapes.
Fresh or dried
Then you can buy fresh or dried pasta. Fresh pasta usually contains egg. Fresh pasta contains more calories, more protein, more fibre and often more salt than dried pasta – although brands do vary.
You can also buy pastas made out of different flours. Pasta made out of wheat flour (wholewheat and white), corn flour or legume flours.
Wholewheat flours are higher in fibre than white pastas. This means they are better for blood sugar control and digestion. They can also fill you up better.
Legume pastas, like lentil or pea pastas, are higher in protein and fibre than traditional wheat pastas but this is not necessarily needed. If you are adding a protein and vegetable rich sauce to your pasta already though, you might be better having the starchy carb from your wholegrain pasta, a much cheaper option. Most people don’t need more protein in the UK.
And on top of these you can also get different colours and flavours – spinach, carrot, squid ink… The colours don’t really add much nutritionally but they look pretty.
How much pasta should we eat?
Nutritionists like to talk about balance. It is SO important. Ideally we should avoid having a wheat based meal 3 times a day so if you are having bran flakes for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for tea, you might want to swap one or 2 of those starchy carbs – eg have porridge for breakfast or rice for tea.
When it comes to how much pasta we should be having in each meal, the best thing to do is work backwards. Include 2 portions of veg in your meal (that’s 2 x 80g), then include a portion of meat/fish/eggs or legumes (a handful/the size of the palm of your hand) and then work out how much pasta you need for your appetite. As a general guide think about filling half your plate with veg, a quarter with protein foods, and a quarter with starchy carb. 75g-100g dried pasta is plenty for most adults.
Which pasta is best to eat?
It depends on what else you are eating. No, that’s not me trying to duck the question – it does depend.
For the under 2s, they shouldn’t have wholegrains are every meal so some white pasta is ok.
For the over 2s, wholegrain pastas are a better option than white. Wholegrains release their sugars slower into the blood stream so they are better for blood sugar control. This can help with reducing the risk of developing diabetes. More fibre also helps the digestive system.
If you are opting for fresh pasta, you might want to have slightly less to compensate for the fact it is higher in calories, protein and fibre.
If you need more protein – for example older adults – legume pastas might be a good option. They can contain twice as much protein as regular white pasta.
Don’t forget it’s not just a case of which pasta, but also what you put on your pasta.
The Bottom Line
Pasta does have a part to play in the diet. Like any food it should be eaten in moderation. There are some diets which recommend low carb for example if you are diabetic you may need to watch carb intake more closely but for most people, some starchy carbs with each meal help form a balanced diet.
Where possible, opt for whole grains and think about your plate being a quarter pasta, a quarter protein food and half veg.
If you would like help with your nutritional health, get in touch