Pasta (or noodles) is a staple in many traditional cuisines. Although the most common types of pasta are made with wheat flour, it can be made with alternative ingredients to suit dietary requirements. Read on to find out: which pasta is better?
The common varieties of pasta that we associate with Italian cuisine are made of different types wheat flour. Asian noodles are commonly made with wheat flour (in the North of China, etc.), rice flour (in the South of China, Vietnam, etc.) or buckwheat (in Japan).
Pasta made from wheat flour can be made with or without egg, depending on the style. Egg pastas are probably the only ones not suitable for vegans.
I have also seen pseudo grain (such as quinoa and amaranth) flours used as the main ingredient for pasta.
Most recently, a variety of options made from legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils and other beans) have entered the market. They are commonly made by well-known brands such as San Remo and Barilla. They are similar in taste and texture to wholemeal pasta.
There are two kind of noodles made of vegetables. The first kind are actual noodles made of konjac, sweet potato starch or mung bean starch.
Finally, we have zoodles (i.e. zucchini noodles) and all sorts of spiralised vegetables. Pretty much any long vegetable can be spiralised to be used as a pasta substitute, for example: carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and cucumbers.
All vegetable pasta/noodle alternatives are gluten-free and some are low in carbohydrates.
Below is a comparison of macronutrients and some micronutrients in different types of pasta. Whether you choose one over the other will depend on your individual needs.
San Remo pulse pasta and Vetta Smart Protein varieties have the most protein per 100g.
Grain and legume-based pastas are all high in carbohydrates. For low-carb/keto options, your best bets are konjac noodles and non-starchy spiralised vegetables.
Wholemeal and legume pasta have the most fibre.
The glycaemic index (GI) indicates how much a particular carbohydrate-containing food will raise your blood sugar. People with metabolic issues (e.g. diabetes, insulin resistance, excess body fat, PCOS, etc.) should aim to eat low-GI foods. In my opinion, most people can benefit from choosing mostly moderate to low-GI foods.
The graph below shows the GI of several types of pasta. Hover over the circles to show the full food name and GI. Note that white wheat and wholemeal pasta have similar GI and that cooking time has an effect in the GI of the food. Therefore, eating pasta al dente is better than eating overcooked pasta from a blood sugar control point of view.
Finally, also note that eating pasta with protein and/or fat will lower the GI of the meal.
All pasta/noodle alternatives can be used as a substitute for regular pasta in main dishes, salads and soups. However, the non-starchy options will not absorb sauces as regular pasta.
Which pasta is better?
The answer depends on your individual needs. You can answer the following questions to determine which pasta is better for you:
- Does it match your dietary requirements, particularly if they are health-related (i.e. allergies and intolerances)?
- Do you like it?
- Is it within your budget?
- Does it have high fibre and low GI?
- Is it high in protein?
Finally, remember that pasta is as healthy as the other ingredients that make the dish. Pair it with plenty of vegetables, good protein and olive oil for a delicious and healthy meal.