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A Healthier Bowl Of Pasta

It's brown, and it sometimes feels like it's biting you back when you bite into it. It comes in many shapes and types. It can single-handedly boost the fiber and nutrients in any meal that features it. It's whole-grain or high-fiber pasta, and it's coming to a supermarket near you (if it's not there already).

You know you're onto something when a major brand jumps on the bandwagon. Not too long ago, Barilla came out with a higher-fiber line of pasta, Barilla Plus. But do these new healthier pastas pass the taste test?

Well, pasta (like most foods) is all about three things: color, flavor, and texture. Most Americans are used to white, tender, pleasantly neutral-tasting pasta. Not everyone is going to eat 100% whole-wheat pasta and love it. But there are options out there.

Barilla Plus is the brand I think is most similar in look and feel to white-flour pasta. This company was definitely thinking outside the pasta box when they formulated this new product. They added a grain and legume flour blend that includes lentils, chickpeas, egg whites, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber and oats. The egg whites and the legumes boost the protein, the barley and oats boost the soluble fiber, and the flaxseed provides some healthy plant omega-3s.

And how does it taste? This pasta is similar indeed to regular pasta — even passable to most kids, I suspect.

Comparing the Healthier Pastas

Most of the whole-wheat pastas I found featured whole durum wheat flour, which is the same as saying "whole semolina flour." Apparently, "semolina" is another word for "coarsely ground durum wheat."

You'll probably only come across this type of wheat when reading pasta labels. Durum wheat is thought to be the best wheat for pasta-making, thanks to its higher protein and gluten content (gluten is a type of protein in wheat that helps give baked products structure).

I'm not going to lie to you: The 100% whole-wheat pastas may take some getting used to. I actually didn't mind that they were browner and heartier, especially when they were part of a fab recipe that included several other ingredients.

Which healthier pasta is highest in fiber or protein, and which brands boost your plant omega-3s as a bonus? Here's a list to help you compare (all measurements are for 2 ounces dry):

Barilla Plus Spaghetti

Calories 210
Fiber 4 g 10g
Protein 2g
Fat 0.2 g
Bonus: plant omega-3

While this enriched multigrain pasta isn't 100% whole wheat, it contains a grain and legume flour blend, along with semolina. This blend generally includes lentils, chickpeas, oats, spelt, barley, egg whites, ground flaxseed and wheat or oat fiber. What this means is that the pasta is high in protein (from the legume flour and the egg whites,) contains some plant omega-3s (from the ground flaxseed,) and will boost your fiber significantly (thanks to the legumes, whole grains, ground flaxseed). Cooking time for the penne variety is 11-12 minutes.

Westbrae Natural Organic Whole Wheat Lasagna

Calories 210
Fiber 6g
Protein 8g
Fat 1.5g

Westbrae Natural Organic Lasagna: The first and only ingredient is organic whole durum wheat flour. Hard to argue with that, isn't it? I love lasagna, so I've noticed over the years that it is definitely difficult to find a higher fiber lasagna noodle. So I was happy to have found this choice at Whole Foods. Yes, it's definitely whole-wheat pasta, but this fact seems to be less noticeable when it is layered in lasagna. Cooking time: 10 minutes for the lasagna.

365 Organic Whole Wheat Shells (from Whole Foods)

Calories 210
Fiber 5g
Protein 7g
Fat 1g

365 Organic Whole Wheat Shells: Even the Whole Foods store brand is jumping on the whole-wheat pasta bandwagon. The pasta contains just organic whole durum wheat flour and water. You'll find it in assorted shapes including long narrow tubes (also known as penne). Cooking time for the shells is 14-16 minutes.

Lifestream Organic Whole Grain-Flax Linguini

Calories 208
Fiber 8g
Protein 9g
Fat 3.5g0.7g
Bonus: plant omega-3

Lifestream Organic Whole Grain-Flax Linguini: This pasta has the highest amount of plant omega-3s in a serving of the brands I checked out. The fiber ain't too shabby, either (8 grams per 2 ounce serving). The brand is distributed through Nature's Path Foods Inc. in Washington, and has just two ingredients: organic wheat durum flour and organic brown flax meal. Cooking time for the linguine is 7-9 minutes.

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle Pasta

Calories 210
Fiber 5g
Protein 8g
Fat 1.5g

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Pasta Rotelle: You can find a few different shapes of whole-wheat pasta in the Trader Joe's brand, including rotelle, penne, and spaghetti. The only ingredient in this pasta is organic durum whole wheat. Cooking time is 9-11 minutes for the rotelle.

5 Healthier Pasta Survival Tips

Ready to try one of these healthier types of pasta? Here are five tips to
help you make the transition:

  1. Keep trying different higher fiber pasta brands or products until you find the one you and your family enjoy most.

  2. Whole wheat or higher-fiber pastas are more appealing when served wit
    flavorful sauces or layered (like in lasagna) with sauce, cheese, vegetables, etc.

  3. Keep in mind that some whole-wheat pastas seem to lighten in color as they cook.

  4. You may eat a little less pasta than you normally would. The whole-wheat and higher-fiber pastas seem to be more satisfying.

  5. If you are a ravioli or tortellini lover, fear not! I've found raviolis made with whole-wheat pasta at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty food stores.

By Elaine Magee
Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman
B)2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved
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