It is one of the longest continuing debates in human history. Is pasta healthy? Pasta is a food that is part of most people’s diets and a staple of the kitchen pantry. Made from flour, it is a quick meal or an easy side dish. While it is simple to cook and incredibly delicious, there is a lurking danger to the pasta that you are eating.
What Is Pasta?
While this question is simpler than “Is pasta healthy?”, the answer is just as complicated. Traditionally, pasta is made from a flour base and combined with eggs, water, and oil. You can buy it dried (pasta secca) or fresh (pasta fresca), in a variety of shapes, or even make it at home.
However, recent health movements and diet trends have altered the definition of pasta. Whole-wheat pasta has been on the rise as a “healthier” alternative to the refined flours of traditional pasta. The science behind whole wheat is that it is more complex and nutrient rich than its white floured counterpart, which has no nutritious value.
Another alteration to the pasta frontier is gluten-free pastas, which use corn instead of wheat, for those who are allergic. Veggie impersonators like spaghetti squash muddle the definition further. To answer the question “Is pasta healthy?”, we need to specify our pasta.
Items the Contain Pasta
Pasta has been a staple of Italian cuisine for centuries. It is so popular in homes and in cookbooks that full aisles are devoted to the product in grocery stores. Popular pasta dishes include: fettuccine alfredo, pad Thai, beef stroganoff, lasagna, and the classic spaghetti Bolognese. For those who chose to buy their pasta instead of making it from scratch, popular brands include:
- Store Brands (365 Everyday Value [Whole Foods], Great Value [Walmart], Market Pantry [Target]
Most brands will offer a variety of shapes for their pasta, as well as whole-wheat and gluten-free options. Those who are living a gluten-free diet should check all labels before purchasing their pasta. While most companies put gluten-free right on the front of the box, others place their labels near the ingredients list. Avoid any pasta that contains wheat, or buy from gluten-free labels like Ancient Harvest, Bionature, or Tolerant.
Dangers of Pasta
Science has shown that traditional pasta may not be healthy for a variety of reasons.
1. Eating large amounts of pasta can cause weight gain. Pasta is very filling and easy to over-indulge. Like with any food, eating large amounts is unhealthy. Pasta has been linked to weight gain when eaten in excess.
2. There is little nutritional value in pasta. Traditional pasta lacks the complexity and nutrition of its whole-wheat counterpart. Without the parts of the grain that are stripped away, there is no nutritional value. Doctors encourage patients to eat foods that supply necessary vitamins and other nutrition for a healthy diet.
3. Potential links to the development of celiac disease. Some doctors believe that too much pasta intake can cause Celiac Disease, which is when the body is unable to process gluten found in wheat.
4. Harmful to those with Celiac Disease. If you do have Celiac Disease, ingesting wheat is incredibly dangerous. The small intestine is unable to process the protein gluten, and as a result is damaged. This can lead to further complications like Type I diabetes. The only treatment for Celiac Disease is a gluten-free diet.
Are There Benefits to Eating Pasta?
Absolutely, for all types of pasta. The greatest health benefits come from the consumption of whole-wheat pasta. It is nutrient-rich and it has been shown that pasta protects “against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity”. Spaghetti squash maybe a vegetable, but it is also a healthier substitute for pasta in any recipe. Is pasta healthy? It can be when choosing one of these options.
Economically, pasta is cheap. The traditional staple is the cheapest, but the healthy alternatives are also affordable, which is great for families on a budget. It is one of the largest exports from Italy, forcing them to import flour to meet demand. This makes it an important player in the global market.
Pasta also has a cultural connection. Many families still make their own pasta. It is a bonding moment for families and a tradition that connects them to their roots. Pasta contributes to the health of the home in many ways.
Is pasta healthy or is it another food you should avoid? Some pastas are incredibly healthy and should remain part of your diet, such as whole-wheat. Otherwise, there is no physical health component to eating it. Pasta is only healthy if you make the healthier choice.
What do you think? Is pasta healthy or fatty? Do you have a preference? Can you taste the difference? Leave a comment!