Are Those Bean and Vegetable Pastas Actually Better for You?
Bean and vegetable pastas aren't anything new. You've likely been eating them for a while (which makes talking to your coworker about her recent discovery of spaghetti squash particularly painful). But as we're seeing more and more pasta alternatives on store shelves, let's take a look and see if they're really worth the swap.
When it comes to buying the boxed kind, nutrition labels are key.
Vegetable-based pastas that you DIY (like these spiralized recipes) will always be the healthier choice. But when you're pressed for time, a boxed version can be a convenient swap. Just make sure to read the label before you buy. "Some vegetable and bean pastas are often made of a mix of refined flour and then a touch of vegetables, making them not much different from the white pasta alternative," says Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D.N., C.D.E., author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. So your usual boxed pasta that has a version enriched with spinach? Likely more there for marketing rather than for any major nutritional benefits.
The ingredient order really matters.
"If your pasta is completely vegetable or bean-based, then that should be the first ingredient," says Carissa Bealert, R.D.N. "What's listed higher up on the label has higher amounts of it in the product." Palinski-Wade agrees, adding that the first ingredient should be 100 percent bean flour. "Many brands will add in a mix of enriched flour or a refined grain (such as white rice flour), so read the back of the box first," she suggests.
You still need to watch your portions.
Even if you're eating lentil, chickpea, quinoa, or another bean-based pasta, calories still count, so it's important to keep serving sizes in mind if you're trying to lose weight. One big bonus of going bean over flour? These boxes are filled with fiber and protein, says Palinski-Wade, meaning you'll feel fuller eating less than you would a regular bowl of pasta.
And if the thought of baked chickpea pasta doesn't quite sound the same to you as baked ziti, try this 50/50 trick from Bealert: "Mix your plate with half whole-wheat pasta and half a vegetable or bean pasta for a low carb way to still enjoy the pasta you love."
But if you're craving traditional pasta, just eat it.
Vegetable and bean pastas are perfect for those looking to watch calories overall and get more daily fiber and protein into their diet. But sometimes, you just want a bowl of the good stuff. And that's okay! "Pasta isn't a bad food when eaten in moderation," says Bealert. "The key is to watch your portions and add in whole vegetables."