Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s lots of healthy choices. Dietitian Lisa Yates and nutritionist Rose Carr have all the info.
What are the choices?
Traditional pasta is made from durum wheat flour, which is a hard, high-protein wheat that retains its shape when dried.
Wholemeal pasta is usually made using half durum wheat flour and half wholemeal flour as the durum wheat is important for both texture and shape.
Gluten-free pasta is now available as an option for people with coeliac disease or those with a wheat allergy. The wheat substitutes used vary: Casalare rigatoni uses rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and maize flour; Orgran vegetable rice pasta spirals uses brown rice flour; and San Remo gluten-free penne is made from maize starch, potato starch, soy flour and rice starch.
While dried pasta comes in an enormous range of shapes and sizes, fresh pasta is generally available in long forms like spaghetti, or filled varieties like tortellini and ravioli.
What’s a serve?
A standard serve of dried pasta is about 80–100g, which is roughly a cup of pasta shapes like penne or macaroni, half a cup of orzo or risoni, or a fifth of a packet of long pasta such as spaghetti. An equivalent serve of fresh pasta is about 100–130g.
On average, a 100g serve of dried pasta (or 130g fresh) provides about 1400kJ energy, 70g carbohydrate, 12g protein, 4g fibre and little fat. The gluten-free products tend to be lower in protein. The nutrition in fresh tortellini and ravioli pasta varies with the filling, but the pasta is 80–90 per cent of the content.
Standard pasta can be a useful source of fibre (unfortunately, the fibre content is not usually shown on the label), but wholemeal pasta has a much higher fibre content: San Remo wholemeal dried pasta has 13g fibre per 100g – over 40 per cent of our RDI!
It’s traditional to add salt to the water when cooking pasta, as it has little salt and this helps bring out the flavour. But you should check the nutrition panel on fresh pasta before adding salt. If it has more than 300mg sodium per 100g pasta, you don’t need to add salt. And if you’re watching your sodium intake, choose filled products with less than 500mg per 100g. Less is better.
Pasta and health
Pasta is a good, healthy staple – what turns pasta into an unhealthy meal is the sauce. So avoid creamy sauces, opt for tomato-based options and watch your portion size.
Did you know? Couscous is actually tiny beads of pasta.