Whether you love spaghetti and meatballs or mac and cheese, there’s nothing more comforting and satisfying like a bowl of pasta. And while there’s no harm in enjoying some white pasta every now and then (hello, carb-loading runners), a cup of spaghetti can set you back 221 calories with only two-and-a-half grams of fiber and eight grams protein.
Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, author of The Diet Detox—Why Your Diet Is Making You Fat and What to Do About It, says, “Dried, store-bought pasta can vary greatly in nutritional value, depending on what they’re made of. I always make sure that every meal has protein and fiber, so I look for a pasta with those in the greatest quantity.”
Impossible? Not these days. Thanks to a new wave of healthy pasta products made with chickpeas, lentils and quinoa — many of which are gluten-free — nutritionist-approved noods do exist. Not only are these options excellent sources of protein and fiber, Alpert says, “Pastas made from legumes have potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.”
From cold-pressed beet juice fusilli to chickpea shells to quinoa penne, you can have your fettuccine and eat it, too.
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When shopping for pasta, Alpert recommends looking for brands that have at least five grams of protein and seven grams of fiber per serving. But those aren’t the only things you want to pay special attention to on a label. “Pasta is primarily made of carbohydrates, so focus on keeping the added sugar to a minimum,” Alpert says. This means looking at your pasta dish as a whole. Avoid tomato sauces high in sugar, go light on the cheese and pair your plate with veggies and lean meats.
So what macaroni should you reach for at the grocery? Check out our favorite pasta products below.
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1. Chickpea Pasta
Chickpeas and pea protein give this gluten-free pasta a filling punch with 14 whopping grams of protein and eight grams of fiber. Better yet, a two-ounce serving will give you 30 percent of your daily dose of iron.
Our pick: Banza Chickpea Shells. Cook al dente and toss in some pesto or vegan cheese. Pair with turkey meatballs or chicken breast. From rotini to ziti, Banza has a variety of pasta shapes for every recipe repertoire. ($25 for six boxes; eatbanza.com)
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2. Quinoa Pasta
A paleo favorite, quinoa is high in fiber and protein, which makes it a great option for vegans and vegetarians, too. What’s more is that it’s gluten-free and is considered one of the least allergenic grains. Most store-bought quinoa pasta includes a blend of rice and has a slightly nutty flavor.
Our pick: Living Now Quinoa Spaghetti Pasta. Perfect for people with food allergies, the organic macaroni is also free of wheat, corn, soy and other allergens. A blend of rice, quinoa and amaranth give the pasta a hearty texture minus the bloat. With five grams of protein in each serving, you’ll fill up fast. If you’ve got some leftover parsley, blend it with some olive oil, minced garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes for a flavorful chimichurri sauce. ($5 per box; nowfoods.com)
3. Beet Pasta
Aside from its bold, vibrant hue, beets are rich in vitamins A and C and other inflammation-fighting nutrients. It’s also a good source of potassium, so many athletes swear by beet juice for preventing muscle cramps. While your spiralizer can do the trick of making beet spaghetti, some store-bought pastas are combining beet juice with a blend of grains and rice for some added health benefits. Everything in moderation, right?
Our pick: Sfoglini Beet Fusilli. While Sfoglini’s pastas aren’t gluten-free, cold-pressed beet juice replaces the water in the pasta dough and serves as the liquid mixed with the organic durum semolina flour for a healthy dose of antioxidants. Enjoy it as a pasta salad with loads of arugula, pecans, apples and crumbled feta. ($8 per box; sfoglini.com)
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4. Shirataki Noodles
Yup, meet the zero-calorie noodle. Made with konnayaku, a Japanese product made from a plant in the taro family, these gluten- and soy-free noodles are perfect for preparing poke bowls and Asian-inspired dishes. The noodles are incredibly light, so the sauce and other foods in the dish can take the spotlight.
Our pick: Miracle Noodle Angel Hair Noodles. Got the sniffles? Use these noodles to make homemade chicken soup. When paired with bone broth, you’ve got an immunity-boosting bowl. ($34 for 10 packages; miraclenoodle.com)
5. Bean Pasta
If you’ve got a serious fettuccine craving but want to cut back on carbs, bean pasta is the way to go. Beans have a much healthier nutrition profile than brown rice pasta because they’re higher in fiber, which and can help stave off hunger. Moreover, beans have a lower glycemic index than rice, quinoa or any whole grain, so you won’t get as big of a blood sugar spike and crash. With a hearty texture and a neutral taste, these gluten-free pastas help you fill up fast and soaks up a variety of sauces and flavors.
Our pick: Explore Cuisine Black Bean Spaghetti or Red Lentil Penne. Explore Cuisine’s the black bean spaghetti has 23 grams carbs, 24 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber. A cheesy butternut squash sauce makes a healthy base for macaroni and cheese, and a chockfull of mushrooms, carrots and celery with tomato sauce is great for vegan-friendly Bolognese. ($7.55 per box; explorecuisine.com)
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