Five Healthy Alternatives to White Pasta
I’m a gal who has always loved her pasta. I could probably eat it every day and not get bored. It’s a great staple that is easy to throw together, is versatile enough that it won’t get boring, and is an old go-to comfort food. However, in the last few years the amount of pasta types that are available has exploded. I’m not talking linguine vs. penne – I am talking about the ingredients. There’s regular, whole wheat, spelt, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, tomato – the list goes on and on. I don’t know about you but the amount of choices has become a little overwhelming. So I did a little experimenting and a little research and want to share a few that I have found and tried with you:
1. Whole wheat pasta:
- This is an easy one that you can find in the commissary or any major grocery store and is available in a variety of pasta types (I have seen spaghetti, linguini, angel hair, penne, and lasagna). It has much more fiber than regular white flour pasta and will do a better job in filling you up. In addition, whole wheat pasta boasts higher protein content and is a good source of potassium and magnesium.
- Whole wheat pasta is definitely denser that regular pasta so is best suited for sturdy sauces. I particularly like whole wheat penne with a meaty-ziti type sauce.
- Some people find that this type of pasta is too dense, but try a couple of different brands (if you don’t like the first) before making a final judgment. Production varies widely and the taste and texture will too.
2. Spelt pasta:
- Spelt is an ancient grain that is similar to wheat. Spelt pasta is a little harder to come by but you can usually find it in a specialty grocery store in a light or dark variety. You can also find it online in bulk (as with most of the pastas I discuss). It typically has a higher fiber and protein content compared with regular pasta. It is also high in manganese, which does all sorts of awesome stuff for your body. Some people with low gluten tolerance are able to eat spelt but it is not gluten free so don’t try it without getting a doctor’s approval if you are allergic.
- Spelt pasta is slightly less dense than whole wheat (especially the light variety) and pairs well with a variety of sauces. Keep in mind that spelt pasta becomes mushy quickly if overcooked.
3. Brown rice pasta:
- Brown rice pasta is the go-to pasta for the gluten-free crowd. The nutritional make-up of brown rice pasta is very similar to that of whole wheat. In addition, it is particularly high in insoluble fiber.
- Brown rice pasta has a mild flavor is hearty when it comes to cooking – meaning that it takes a lot to make it mushy. It pairs well with lighter sauces but will do the job for almost any.
4. Vegetable pasta:
- A new fad is to add vegetables to pasta – particularly tomato and spinach. Vegetable pasta is more a variable of wheat pasta than its own separate entity. They key when trying to find a veggie pasta is to look at the label and avoid any that have ‘enriched’ or ‘refined.’ (Granted, if you have to choose, enriched is the better option.) However, this can be confusing when you are forced to make the decision standing in the pasta aisle at the grocery store.
- Like whole wheat pasta, it tends to be slightly denser (though not as dense as whole wheat in my experiences) with just a hint of vegetable flavor. It pairs well with practically any sauce. I like how colorful spinach spaghetti is with a red sauce – delicious and aesthetically pleasing too!
5. Quinoa pasta:
- Quinoa is another ancient grain that is related to spinach, chard, and beets. This is another option for those seeking a gluten-free pasta. Usually quinoa pasta is mixed with some sort of corn flour. It is high in protein as well plus is a good source of iron and has a low glycemic index – meaning your body will take longer to break it down and will remain fuller longer.
- As far as taste, there is a little lack in the starchiness that makes pasta (for me at least) a comfort food. I also found it a little chewier than normal pastas but did not mind the flavor. Truly, once you add sauce, especially a flavorful one, the difference is almost miniscule.
Other Useful Pasta Tips:
- Cook pasta to al dente (usually the lowest recommended cooking time) so that it is firm and a little springy when you bite into it. There is even suggestion that the body takes longer to break the pasta down when it is cooked al dente, providing a more steady energy level.
- Avoid rinsing after cooking – not only will the pasta be more likely to stick together, but by rinsing off the starch sauces will have a harder time sticking to the noodles.
- Remember that pasta continues to cook slightly even after its drained. This is especially important to keep in mind for pastas that will be baked after cooking, like lasagna.
- Use a pot big enough for pasta to expand while cooking. The general rule of thumb is 2 quarts for every ½ pound of pasta.
Have fun exploring the different types of pastas and be sure to share your recipes with InDependent. What type of pasta is your favorite?