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Is Whole Wheat Pasta Healthier?
Choosing pasta is no longer just about the size and shape. Whether it’s fettuccini, rotini or good ol' macaroni, white vs. wheat is the latest supermarket quandary (right along with paper vs. plastic). So is choosing whole worth it?
Nothing But the Wheat — Why It Matters
The main difference between white and whole wheat pasta lies in the processing. Whole wheat contains 3 parts of the grain— the bran (the grain’s outer layer), the germ (the sprouting section of the seed), and the endosperm (the large starchy center). But during the refining process, the heat is on— forcing the nutrient rich bran and germ out of the grain, leaving just the endosperm behind. While the stripped-down white stuff boasts a longer shelf life, not to mention a cheaper price tag, it’s considered nutritionally weaker (even though the endosperm packs a fair share of protein, carbohydrates, iron, and B vitamins)  . Of course, the same rules apply when choosing in the bread aisle.
Opting for whole wheat ensures the most nutritional benefits, including the bran and the germ’s vitamin E, major B vitamins, antioxidants, appetite-squashing fiber, protein, and healthy fats. But how often do we need the whole (wheat) enchilada? Several studies have shown that eating at least three servings of whole grains (a ½ cup of cooked whole wheat pasta counts as one serving) per day can reduce the risk of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, cancer, and digestive issues   . (Though, of course, these benefits can only be reaped by those without an allergy or intolerance to wheat.).
Pasta La Vista Baby — The Answer/Debate
Although some nutrients, including iron and B vitamins, are often added back into white pasta to create an “enriched” product, these still can’t compete with the natural benefits of unrefined whole grains. Still, whole wheat pasta may take some time to catch on, so don’t expect to find the option on most restaurant menus (and forget about the more traditional Italian establishments). Luckily, most supermarkets stock a few whole wheat pasta options— just be sure to take a closer look at those nutrition labels. True whole wheat pasta will list 100 percent durum whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. And check the front of package for “100 percent whole wheat,” or the orange "Whole Grain" stamp.
Getting used to the taste and texture of whole wheat pasta may take a little time, thanks to its strong, nuttier flavor and more grainy consistency. But following the suggested cooking will ensure the noodles don’t get too gummy and start sticking together (no one wants a ball of pasta instead of a bowl of pasta). With the right sauce or topping, adding whole wheat pasta is an easy way to enjoy a healthy meal and sneak those whole grains onto the menu. Mangiamo!
Do you prefer whole or white? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally posted on October 10, 2011. Updtated September 2012.
- New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre? Fardet, A. INRA, UMR 1019 Nutrition Humaine, Saint-Genès-Champanelle, France. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2010 Jun;23(1):65-134. Epub 2010 Jun 22.⤴
- The botanical integrity of wheat products influences the gastric distention and satiety in healthy subjects. Hlebowicz, J., Lindstedt, S., Björgell, O., et al. Department of Medicine, University of Lund, Malmö University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden. Nutrition Journal. 2008 Apr 27;7:12.⤴
- Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Mellen, P.B, Walsh, T.F, Herrington, D.M. Department of Internal Medicine, Section of General Medicine, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, Winston-Salem, NC. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease. 2008 May;18(4):283-90. Epub 2007 Apr 20.⤴
- Dietary fiber and whole-grain consumption in relation to colorectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Schatzkin, A., Mouw, T., Park, Y., et al. Division of Cancer Epidemiology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MDAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007 May;85(5):1353-60.⤴
- Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women's Health Study. Jacobs, D.R Jr., Andersen, L.F., Blomhoff, R. Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007 Jun;85(6):1606-14.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
Thank you for this great awareness post. We have switched entirely to whole grain pastas in our home. I have a penchant for pasta but have always steered away because of the poor nutitional content and the sauces are so high in fat and calories. It is almost a personal mission for me to make flavorful sauces to go with my whole grain pastas! Anyway, great post, really enjoyed reading it. My name is Jana and I also have a health and wellness blog at http://www.adoctorandanurse.com.
I found your post through my Linkedin groups connections. Thanks again, Jana
I'd go one step further and choose soba noodles, made from buckwheat. High in vitamins and minerals, high in protein, usually gluten free!
Sorry but after reading this I'm going to have to unsubscribe from Greatist. If you had at least mentioned that a large % of the population may have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and people should rule that out before increasing their intake of whole grains that would have been more responsible journalism. A caveat or warning that if people started experiencing symptoms of any of the more than 200 conditions that have been linked to wheat consumption and particularly the whole grain versions that they get tested would have been a useful paragraph. In addition, your claim regarding reducing cardiovascular disease has been called into question in more recent studies than the ones you referenced and a book called Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, Cardiologist.
In a post where you credit whole grains with reducing the occurrence of chronic health conditions it would have been better if you had at least mentioned that a large % of the population may have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and people should rule that out before eating whole grain versions of pasta or pasta at all. A caveat or warning that if people started experiencing symptoms of any of the more than 200 conditions that have been linked to wheat consumption, and particularly the whole grain versions, that they get tested would have been a useful paragraph. In addition, your claim regarding reducing cardiovascular disease has been called into question in more recent studies than the ones you referenced and a book called Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, Cardiologist.
@CandiceStone Hi Candice,
I'm Kate, the Health Editor here at Greatist, and I live a gluten-free lifestyle and have Celiac disease. I hope you'll hear me out on this, because I really, truly understand first hand where you're coming from (there are also two more gluten-intollerant members of our team here at Greatist!).
This article was by no means meant to suggest that all people should be eating whole wheat products, simply that if choosing between white or whole-wheat, whole-wheat is the way to go. We've also written on the benefits of whole grains in general, and have some more related content in the pipeline, so stay tuned! I've added in one sentence referencing the possible problems it can also lead to for that segment of the population here.
As for the cardiovascular health claims, I'll certainly take a deeper look into Dr. Davis's book and keep an eye out for related research in the near future.
Thanks so much for reading and for your passion about the subject! Please feel free to chat with me any time via email (email@example.com).
@ksmorin Kate - thanks for your reply and thanks for the addition. Unfortunately there are so many people with un-diagnosed gluten intolerance who do not realize that their symptoms might be gluten related but at least if we keep putting the flag out there eventually some might be alerted to the fact that they might have issues with wheat.
I look forward to seeing what you have in the pipeline.
It tastes like poop its like someone came along and took a big giant crap on my plate and thats not right
Thanks for the info. There are plenty of people WITHOUT gluten sensitivites or celiac and this article is perfect for the majority of adults. Why should those without allergies or concerns about a certain food worry about those who have it? "Large percent of the population?" Really? I remember in the mid 80's one of my mom's friends had celiac disease and we were all amazed by it as nobody had ever heard of it. 30 years later, it seems like gluten free is a "fad" or an effort to lose weight.
@FrugalCat Things were definitely different 30 years ago — hell, even 5 years ago! Few people knew what gluten was or that they probably ate it every day, let alone knew what Celiac was! But, it is true that the diagnosis rate of Celiac and other gluten sensitivities have totally exploded in the last few years. Fact: 1 in 133 (and many say as many as 1 in 100) in the US have Celiac disease. Up to 6 or 7 percent of the population suffer from other types of gluten sensitivity.
Yes, many celebrities/pop media have portrayed "gluten-free" as a healthier way to live or a way to lose weight. In reality, that's NOT the majority of people who eat gluten-free. In fact, the people who HAVE to eat gluten-free because of Celiac or gluten sensitivity usually GAIN weight after going gluten-free — not lose it (I WISH that was the case!).
Coming from someone who has Celiac (which requires me to seriously monitor everything I put in my body, even if I'm told it's "gluten-free"), please realize that gluten-free is not just a weight-loss fad. For the majority of people who need to eat that way, it's a matter of life or death — literally.