While the Italian dinner staple isn’t completely evil in the world of dietary discipline, there are some pastas that rank significantly higher on the health scale than others.
Sure, carb-heavy foods like pasta often get a bad rap, but sometimes it’s not warranted. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel and are necessary to maintain proper cellular function. It’s really the type of carbohydrates (and portion size) that matter most. Simply put: we need carbs, but only the good kinds!
Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition advises that the carbohydrates and the calories are not to be mulled over too heavily, but rather it’s the protein and fiber content that separate the worst from the best in the macaroni world. Smith recommends a minimum of 3-4 grams of protein per serving and a baseline of 4-5 grams of protein for a pasta to be able to truly offer any kind of health benefit.
To help you sift through the carbs that’ll fuel your busy day rather than leave you in a food coma, we’ve put together a list of best and worst of the pasta aisle so that you can keep spaghetti and meatballs in the weekly dinner rotation—but with a little less guilt. Check out which boxes are Eat This-approved, and don’t forget to snoop through our ranking of 40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces to round out your rotini dinner.
Banza Chickpea Shells
Ditch your old school noodles for these delicious chickpea pasta shells that pack in about double (plant-based!) protein and four times more fiber than traditional shells! According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, simply adding more fiber to your diet can be enough to boost weight loss efforts. Swapping in foods higher in fiber can not only promote greater feelings of fullness, but according to the research, the swap itself is the key. Adding in healthier, high-fiber fare often displaces the less nutrient-dense grub resulting in an overall boost in healthy choices.
365 Everyday Value Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli
Ever take a bite of pasta and you just know for a fact that something’s off? Some whole wheat and whole grain pastas can leave a funny taste in your mouth, lacking in the same texture as regular white noodles. Thankfully, healthified varieties like this one that taste like the classic exist, boasting their bumped up fiber count that’s about three times the amount in regular spaghetti.
Modern Table Lentil Rotini
With just three clean ingredients—red lentil flour, white rice, and pea protein—this belly-flattening pick packs a solid protein punch while delivering that authentic pasta flavor we know and love.
Barilla Whole Grain Thin Spaghetti
“The trouble is that a lot of whole wheat brown pastas are really no better than the regular white ones, so you really have to go out of your way to turn the label over,” Smith says. “For the most part, aim for at least 3-4 grams of fiber per serving.” This ubiquitous offering definitely fits the bill.
Tolerant Organic Mini Fettuccini Red Lentil Pasta
Made with just organic red lentils, Tolerant’s organic mini fettuccini can help your shrinking waistline get away with an indulgent pasta dinner. The legumes are a solid source of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron as well as thiamine—an essential nutrient that helps our bodies process carbs.
Explore Asian Black Bean Spaghetti
Consider black bean pasta the gourmet squid ink spaghetti of the health food world. It’s delicious, acclaimed, and definitely impressive—especially since it boasts a walloping 25 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber per two-ounce serving. Pair these low-carb black bean strings with a hearty olive oil-based sauce for an extra dose of slimming healthy fats.
Ancient Harvest POW Pasta Green Lentil Penne
Ancient harvest’s two stellar ingredients—green lentil flour and organic quinoa flour—manage to bless this plant-based pasta with seven grams of fiber and 14 grams of the muscle-building macro. Finally, we can feel good about fulfilling our cravings without undoing any hard-earned weight loss wins.
Great Value Whole Wheat Rotini
For just under $2 a box, as well as five grams of fiber and seven grams of protein per serving, this pick is definitely a great value, if you catch our drift. Pair this pasta with an indulgent homemade marinara sauce and you won’t even realize you’re digging into a whole-grain dish.
Al Dente Whole Wheat Fettuccine
Al Dente’s whole wheat flat noodles definitely rival Walmart’s brand due to their lower calorie and carb content and slightly higher fiber count, making this a stellar pic for those watching their waistlines.
De Cecco Linguine No. 7 Pasta 100% Whole Wheat
With just under 40 grams of carbs per serving, you can bypass the guilt and coat De Cocco’s carbs with that artisanal pesto sauce you’ve been yearning to try. Or, you can whip up a quick seafood stir fry that pairs perfectly with long linguine noodles.
Barilla Protein-Plus Penne
Another fortified pick that crept its way onto our list is this protein-plus option from Barilla. These noodles boast a solid 10 grams of protein per serving, with a decent base of four grams of fiber. Protein helps your body slow down the digestion process, increases feelings of satiety and helps your muscles grow and recover from tough workouts. Just add a heavy dose of veggies to flesh out the fiber count even further and you’ll have yourself a filling and fueling meal.
Market Pantry Whole Wheat Penne Pasta
Target’s version of whole wheat penne is (almost) as impressive as the retail gaint’s $5 chardonnay. Boasting the same nutritionals as Walmart’s whole wheat noodles, this pick is as versatile and ubiquitous as the sauces you can slather them with.
Ronzoni Smart Taste Spaghetti
Fortified pastas are certainly on the right track when it comes to making a fan-favorite food actually better for you. Ronzoni’s Smart Taste is enriched with fiber, calcium, and Vitamin D, which are all great things, but most importantly the pasta’s been boosted with 2.5 times the fiber of regular white pasta while still boasting the same beloved taste and texture of the classic stuff.
Nasoya All Natural Pasta Zero Plus Shirataki Spaghetti
Dubbed “Pasta Zero,” you’d expect zeros across the nutrition board, but this pasta is anything but lacking. For just 15 calories, your body benefits from three grams of fiber and a gram of protein, meaning you can (and should!) triple and quadruple your portion size to reap more of those satiating macros—definitely not something we’d recommend for traditional noodles! Toss these noodles with a healthy fat-filled sauce for a well-balanced meal.
Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Fettuccine
You may be acquainted with Ezekiel sprouted English muffins or bread (hint: you can find it in the freezer section), but the health-conscious line has also formulated pasta with similar benefits, too. Since the grains are sprouted, it helps keep the grain itself intact; and since they’re less refined, they retain more nutritional density. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, incorporating more whole grains into your diet can help reduce heart disease, encourage weight loss and even work to prevent diabetes. What’s more? Whole grains are also on the good side of the 30 Best and Worst Foods for Healthy Hair!
And Now…The Worst
Ronzoni Gluten Free Rotini
Going gluten-free is necessary for those who suffer from celiac disease, but if you’re not intolerant to gluten, there’s no reason for you to buy a box of this Ronzoni rotini. Void of substantial amounts of protein and fiber, these corkscrew-shaped carbs are better off left on the shelves.
Barilla Classic Spaghetti
As classic as you can get, Barilla’s spaghetti doesn’t offer anything more than the authentic pasta taste we mindlessly slurped as kids.
Just because this pick goes on sale every other week at your local grocery store, that doesn’t mean you should stock up on the stuff. With barely any fiber to justify the 200 calories per serving, you’re better off considering a bowl of this a cheat meal.
Your penne ala vodka cravings shouldn’t be synonymous with a derailed diet if you pick the right pasta. Unfortunately, Mueller’s hollow tubes aren’t your best bet.
Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta Fusilli
Concocted with just organic brown rice and water, we expected this pick to have a bit more fiber and protein. We’re also a bit disheartened about the fact that TJ’s didn’t bother enriching its grains with vitamins, like other offerings, either.
San Giorgio Farfalle
Although “farfalle” just happens to be the Italian word for “butterflies,” we definitely don’t have any crush-like stomach sensations when we’re offered a box of San Giorgio’s pasta. It’s almost void of fiber and really doesn’t make up for it with its protein count.
Skinner Quick Cook Rotini
Skinner almost sounds like “skinnier,” yet these pasta pieces are anything but. Just like any other commercial semolina corkscrews out there, this pick will leave you hungry within a few hours of relishing the rotini.
American Beauty Large Elbows
This mac and cheese staple may lend your cheddar cheat meal that classic taste and texture we crave every now and then, but it definitely shouldn’t take up too much precious pantry space. These elbows don’t offer much nutrition-wise, and due to their low fiber count, they’ll leave you going back for seconds or worse, thirds.
Creamette Penne Rigate
Creamette’s carbs are the reason why pasta gets a bad rap: it’s relatively high in carbs considering the low fiber count and non-impressive protein count. Unless you’re starved and can’t find anything else in your pantry, opt for a more satiating pick.
Great Value Rotini
Why go for this lackluster noodle when you can choose Walmart’s better-for-you whole wheat option? With two measly grams of fiber, this box doesn’t have enough roughage to help slow the digestion of the carbohydrates from the pasta, and as a result, you’ll likely experience spikes and dips in blood sugar. “Although most carb counts are the same between pasta varieties, choosing a pasta with more fiber can help prevent blood sugar spiking and can promote better energy,” Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition explains.
Simply Balanced Organic Fusilli
We’re really not sure why Target decided to brand this pasta as “Simply Balanced” when its protein, fiber, and calorie counts are out of whack. The only thing that this fusilli’s got going for it is the fact that it’s organic and fortified. But with just two grams of fiber, these textured noodles aren’t made to tame your hunger for long. You can definitely score a more balanced meal by choosing a box that boasts more of the satiating stuff.
Market Pantry Pot-Sized Spaghetti
Target’s pot-sized spaghetti may come in handy when it you’re trying to fit the strings into your pot without breaking them. But who needs a Goldilocks-sized noodle when it’s lacking in the belly-filling fiber department?
Al Dente Garlic Parsley Fettuccine
Digging into garlic- and parsley-sprinkled pasta may make your mouth water, but this pick will also make your belly rumble. And although it won’t keep you hovering over the stovetop for long (it cooks in just three minutes!) there’s not nearly enough protein and fiber in a single serving to keep you satiated past lunch time.
Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta
Just because it’s gluten-free, doesn’t mean this brown rice-based pick is a smart dinner choice. With just two grams of fiber and four grams of protein, these textured noodles aren’t made to tame your hunger for long.
No Yolks Broad Noodles
You may recognize these nostalgic noodles from your childhood, when mom tossed them into your favorite chicken noodle soup. Although you thought these ho-hum noodles might help you get over a nasty cold, they’re not much more than high-cal carbs. And if you’re looking to slim down while you carb up, you won’t want to miss these 10 Ways to Eat Pasta Without Getting Fat.