Even when you’re not in carb-loading mode, there’s nothing like a bowl of pasta. Though regular pasta was once considered simply a source of empty carbs to give you energy during a race or long training session, there are now new pasta varieties that are packed with both more protein and more fiber. (Many of them also happen to be gluten-free to accommodate people with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease). The best part is that you can find many of these alternative protein-filled pastas, from red lentil to edamame, in your local grocery store. So is protein pasta healthy? Of course, they’re not as budget friendly as a regular package of spaghetti, and the texture might be slightly different, but nutrition-wise, they have a lot to offer in terms of making a plant-forward meal. Here are some of the healthy pasta-bilities out there with these nutritious noodles.
Is Protein Pasta Healthy? Yes — But Here's What You Should Know
Try Experimenting with these Types of Protein Pastas
“Bean pastas offer a lower carb, higher-protein and often higher-fiber punch than your regular durum wheat pastas,” says Hillary Pride, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT. For reference, regular white pasta may only contain about 3 grams of fiber, if that. But between the different bean and legume pastas, and even between brands, the exact amount of macronutrients fluctuates, Pride points out.
Chickpea flour pasta has between 11 and 14 grams of protein and about 8 grams of fiber in a standard two-ounce serving (about 1 cup) of pasta. If you’re eating more pasta, closer to a three-and-a-half ounce serving, it’ll likely contain up to 25 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber.
Red lentil pasta has a similar nutrient profile: A two-ounce serving has about 13 grams of protein and 6 to 8 grams of fiber, while a larger serving (which may be closer to a typical meal’s worth of pasta) has closer to 25 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber.
Green pea flour pasta also compares: a typical two-ounce serving has about 11 grams of protein and about 5 grams of fiber, which is 20 percent of your daily value.
Edamame spaghetti, in just a small two-ounce serving, has 24 grams of protein and 11 grams of protein (and, it’s filled with iron, potassium, and some calcium too, says Pride); black bean spaghetti has 25 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber in that same size serving.
While all of these are winners when it comes to plant-based protein sources, it depends on your preference of taste and texture. Just make sure to read the label on the box of pasta to make sure you’re getting as much nutrition out of it as possible, as some brands mix the bean flour with regular enriched or refined flours (which wouldn’t be gluten-free!), says Maggie Michalcyzk, RDN.
Why You Shouldn’t Forget About Whole Wheat Pasta
If you’re looking to cut carbs and up your plant-based protein intake, the legume flour pastas are a solid option for you. However, whole wheat pasta actually supplies you with many of the minerals and nutrients you need. “Don’t forget that a whole grain durum wheat flour pasta offers plenty of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and manganese,” Pride says.
The fiber content of the bean pastas could be a blessing or a curse, depending on the person. If you’re trying to increase the fiber in your diet, you’ve got the right pasta. They’re more filling, too. “Since the legume-based pastas are higher in fiber, some people may notice how full they start to feel after eating this version as compared to regular pasta,” Michalcyzk says. That, and the fiber may irritate people with a sensitive gut. If you’re struggling with gut irritation from too much fiber, then whole wheat pasta could be the better choice for you.
Add More Protein To Your Pasta
The bean-based pastas may not be for you, and in that case, there are ways to still up the protein content in your pasta dinner. Pride suggests pairing whole grain pasta with sautéed tofu or tempeh, edamame, or grilled chicken or fish. “For example, a two-ounce serving of whole grain spaghetti served with three ounces of tempeh would offer 24 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber,” Pride says. It might be more cost-effective to buy regular whole wheat pasta and add protein on the side, in the form of chicken or beans, which are especially inexpensive to incorporate into your meal. But it’s a tradeoff, because there are more nutrients packed into one box of legume-based pasta. “The ease of enjoying a serving of high protein pasta like an edamame fettuccine, and knowing you are getting protein, healthy fat, and high fiber carbs in one package is definitely a win,” Pride says. Plus, if you’re eating gluten-free, the bean pasta is your most nutritious bet, Michalcyzk adds.
You can also get creative by mixing whole wheat and bean pasta together. Or better yet, mix regular whole grain or bean pasta with spiralized veggie noodles like zucchini or butternut squash noodle to cut back on carbs and add more vegetables to your meal, Michalcyzk suggests. Sticking to the portion size suggested on the box as much as possible, as well as making sure your meal has enough protein and fiber from veggies, are the two most important things to remember, says Michalcyzk--then, you’re free to add whichever noodles you prefer to your plate.