Whole wheat is healthier — but our dietitian explains why she’s sticking with white pasta

There’s long been a debate about whether or not we should replace white pasta with whole wheat pasta. But nobody really tells you why. Sometimes, it can just seem like another nutrition claim that gets tossed into your mental bank of health things to remember. So, should you actually make the switch?

Whole wheat pasta is darker in color and has a nuttier taste and coarser texture than white pasta. During the milling process, the entire kernel is included, keeping nutrients intact in the flour. Whole wheat pastas are different from whole grain pastas, which may be confusing to hear! The phrase “whole-wheat pasta” refers to pasta that uses the entire grain kernel, while “whole-grain pasta” refers to using any or sometimes several grains.

Wheat, corn, barley, spelt, rice, and buckwheat are some examples. Whole wheat pasta typically takes longer to prepare, but it’s important not to over or undercook it so that the texture isn’t too hard or grainy.

raw pasta
Whole wheat pasta is darker in color and has a nuttier taste and coarser texture than white pasta. (Photo by CHUTTERSNAP from Unsplash)

Is whole wheat healthier than regular pasta?

Regular pasta has had its vitamins, minerals, and fiber stripped during processing. This isn’t ideal because the bulk of nutrition is in grains. Since the fiber has been removed, it’s much more likely to quickly raise your blood sugar levels.

You’re then less likely to feel full and, therefore, more likely to overeat to feel satisfied. Whole wheat pasta has more slightly protein and significantly more fiber, as well as a variety of nutrients, to help diversify your diet. One two-ounce serving of whole wheat pasta contains seven grams of fiber and eight grams of protein.

The same serving of regular pasta contains three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein. The fiber difference is key as fiber helps slow down digestion and keep you fuller with less food. It also helps support regular bowel movements and better cholesterol levels. Whole wheat pasta also contains more phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, B vitamins, and selenium.

Do I need to swear off regular white pasta for good?

Absolutely not. I’m a dietitian and I never willfully buy whole wheat pasta. This is because the health of a food like pasta shouldn’t be determined in isolation, and the flavor isn’t that great, in my opinion.

We usually eat pasta with sauces, meats, cheeses, and vegetables. A pasta meal with heavy cream and a lot of cheese isn’t as health-supporting as a dish with marinara sauce, ground turkey, spinach, and some cheese on top. In the second example, you’ve added protein, vegetables, and a lighter sauce to make for a balanced meal. The protein and fiber from the turkey and spinach, respectively, will support stable blood sugar levels and help keep you full.

Think about it: you’re more likely to overeat a bowl of plain buttered noodles than a pasta dish packed with meat and lots of veggies. If you struggle to eat more whole grains, adding whole-grain pasta can be a good place to start. Still, whether you choose to eat white or whole wheat, you’ll want to focus on adding more protein and veggies to round everything out.

Bottom Line

Whole wheat pasta is more nutritious because it is processed with the whole kernel. There is more fiber, slightly more protein, and more micronutrients compared to regular pasta. Including more whole grains than refined white grains is always a good thing!

However, this doesn’t mean you need to only eat whole wheat pasta. Most people, including myself, find white pasta to be tastier, and that’s totally fine. Regardless of the pasta type you choose, prioritize adding more nutrition, such as meat, chicken, fish, and vegetables like squash, zucchini, spinach, carrots, broccoli, or asparagus.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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