The News We All Needed Today: Pasta Has Pretty Legitimate Health Benefits
Because pasta isn't canceled.
Great news, noodle heads. We already know that pasta is a near-perfect food: it’s convenient, easy-to-prepare, and loved by little ones just as much as adults. If you’ve been living off pasta since the onset of the pandemic, you’re not alone. Why not? It’s as versatile as they come, with noodle varieties and sauce variations that are (quite literally) limitless.
The one drawback always seems to boil down to nutritional value. While we won’t argue that pasta is on par with vitamin- and fiber-rich foods like beans or fresh fruits and vegetables, noodles actually have a number of redeeming health benefits worth considering, says Diane Welland, a registered dietitian and health expert.
New research published in Frontiers in Nutrition last month, analyzing the diets of adults and children who eat pasta, found that pasta consumption in both children and adults is associated with a better diet quality and better nutrient intakes than that of those adults and children who do not eat pasta. The study examined associations between pasta consumption, shortfall nutrient intakes as defined by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, and diet quality in comparison to non-pasta consumption in the U.S. population (children ages 2 to 18 and adults over 19 years old). FYI, pasta consumption was defined as all dry domestic and imported pasta/noodle varieties made with only wheat and no egg.
“Pasta can be an effective building block for good nutrition throughout the lifecycle, as it serves as a perfect delivery system for fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and legumes,” explains Welland. This is really the crux of its nutritional potential—it's the ideal base for pairing with whole foods. “Think of pasta as a canvas from which you can add almost any nutrient-dense, fiber-rich food you and your family like, to create memorable and delicious meals," Welland adds. "This analysis underscores the nutritional importance of grains, such as pasta, as consistent with a healthy diet. It shows that pasta eaters have better quality diets than those who don’t eat pasta.”
Welland outlined the top health benefits you’ll gain from eating noodles—and might we just say, you’re welcome.
Increased Folic Acid
One serving (about 2 ounces) of enriched pasta is fortified with about 25 percent or 100 micrograms of the recommended daily dietary intake of folic acid. Folic acid helps your body maintain and produce new cells. It may also help prevent colon and cervical cancer, as well as reduce the risk of birth defects in pregnant women.
As a complex carbohydrate, pasta breaks down into glucose, which is the primary fuel your brain and your body need to keep you energized and alert throughout the day.
Low Glycemic Index
With a low GI, pasta keeps blood sugar levels (relatively) in check, so you can stay energized throughout the day.
Better Diet Quality
The recent study cited above found that pasta consumption in both children and adults is associated with a better diet quality and better nutrient intakes than those of adults and children who do not eat pasta. This means pasta consumption was associated with higher intakes of the nutrients we need more of like iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin E, and folate (as mentioned above) and lower intake of the nutrients we get too much of, like saturated fat.
Low Sodium and Cholesterol-Free
Pasta is low in sodium and cholesterol-free so you can feel good about what you’re eating. For an extra nutritional boost, try adding some fresh fish or seafood to your pasta. Seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol and protect heart health.