If you've been in the pasta aisle recently, you've seen the explosion of whole-grain and other newfangled pastas pumped up with protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They're being marketed as better-for-you alternatives to traditional pasta, but are they?
Being active myself and married to a former professional cyclist who is still very competitive in the sport, you can bet that we go through a fair share of carbohydrates each week. My husband, Craig, who lived in Italy while racing on an Italian cycling team, is all about perfect pasta. It must be cooked just right, and he knows how to match the thickness of sauces to the specific shapes.
So when I came home the other day with all the new whole-wheat, high-fiber, fancified pastas, Craig was perturbed. "What's the matter with regular pasta?" he grumbled.
"Nothing," I assured him. "I just need to try these for research, then we can go back to our regular pasta."
After cooking up batches of the six brands charted below, we taste-tested them with various tomato-based sauces. We liked them all, but the standouts were Ronzoni Healthy Harvest and Barilla Whole Grain, both of which are whole-grain pasta blends that use 51% whole-wheat flour.
The other four products are made with 100% whole grain, which lends a stiffer, chewier texture and somewhat nutty flavor. While we could get used to that, it was too different from our regular white pasta diet.
Here, you can compare some of the new whole-wheat pasta options to De Cecco traditional durum semolina-based pastas. The whole-grain has double to triple the fiber and more protein than regular pasta. And some varieties offer omega-3 fatty acids from flax, which is nutritious, but a less absorbable type of omega-3 than the kind found in fish.
Note: Nutrition information is based on a 56 gram serving, or about ½ cup uncooked pasta.
*Top picks in the Upton household.
Some tips for cooking up whole-grain pasta.
Don't overcook by following the package cooking directions. Unlike traditional pasta, when you overcook whole-grain pasta, it turns to mush (as I quickly found out).
Thinner noodles, like spaghetti, in a whole-grain version, often turn out better than thick because they don't cook as long.
When you pair any whole-wheat pasta with quality ingredients such as freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and extra-virgin olive oil, you really can't go wrong.
Whether you eat whole-wheat or white pasta, the sauce is where you can make or break your diet. Avoid cream sauces and saturated-fat-rich meat sauces, which can sabotage the healthiest of staples.
By Julie Upton