Many people who want to cut back on carbohydrates, avoid gluten, and pump up plant protein intake are turning to a new breed of noodles to perform those nutritional magic tricks.
Traditional pasta is made from semolina, a refined flour derived from durum wheat. The new pastas are made from grains such as quinoa, and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils. So-called alternative pastas — which Whole Foods named one of the top 10 food trends for 2017 — are perceived as being healthier.
“They intersect with virtually every healthy food trend in today’s marketplace,” says Rachel Cheatham, an adjunct assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts University.
Consumer Reports decided to test 13 alternative pastas to see whether they meet consumer expectations for nutrition and taste.
If you’re trying to eat fewer carbs, you may be disappointed to discover that the carb counts of these new pastas aren’t always much lower than regular pasta. A 2-ounce serving of traditional pasta — a half cup dry, which cooks up to about 1 cup — has about 43 grams of carbs. The same-size serving of the alternative pastas Consumer Reports looked at had 32 to 46 grams. Nor are there big differences in calorie counts: 2 ounces of dry regular pasta has 210 calories; bean or quinoa noodles have 190 to 210 calories.
But there are other reasons to add alternative pastas to your diet. Eating legumes and whole grains is linked to improved cardiovascular health, a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, and better weight control — benefits that can be attributed in great part to their protein and fiber content.
Like the beans themselves, legume pastas are packed with plant protein. The products Consumer Reports tested ranged from 11 to 15 grams per 2-ounce serving.
Despite quinoa’s reputation for being a protein-rich grain, pastas made with it usually contain a blend of flours, sometimes including wheat. The quinoa products Consumer Reports looked at had just 4 to 8 grams of protein per serving. (Regular pasta averages 7 grams.)
All of the alternative pastas tested had enough fiber to be considered a good source of the nutrient (3 or more grams per serving). But some had 8 or more grams. “Getting more fiber has many health benefits,” says Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. “But if you aren’t used to consuming large amounts in one sitting, it can cause bloating, cramping, and gas.”
To avoid these issues, he says, increase fiber intake gradually and drink plenty of water.
Pasta made from beans and grains like quinoa often falls squarely in the gluten-free category. That doesn’t make food more nutritious, but if you suffer from gluten intolerance, then the rise of alternative pastas may be a boon for you. Look for a logo that says “certified gluten-free,” because not all alternative pastas are made from gluten-free ingredients.
To learn more, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.