The Good and Bad of Alternative Noodles

No matter which fad diet you’re following, pasta is usually on the list of foods to avoid. This has been making dieters incredibly carb-phobic. On the other hand, some dietary restrictions such as celiac disease rightfully call for alternatives to gluten-filled pasta. If you’re reaching for alternatives to traditional pasta, you may not be getting a healthier noodle.

Good

Alternative pastas have all kinds of ulterior motives — some are free of gluten, others low in calories or high in protein. What matters most is what they’re made of. Traditional pasta is made from wheat flour, but you can also find healthy alternatives made from other grains, including rice, corn and quinoa; let’s not leave out good old spaghetti squash! Vitamin- and protein-rich legume-based pastas are also crowding supermarket shelves. Most of these options have very different texture and flavor profiles. Plus, the nutrient values differ significantly, so check labels to decide which fits best into your eating plan.

Some tasty options: Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta, Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta, Barilla Protein Plus, Ancient Harvest and soba noodles (made from buckwheat). See more in our pasta taste test.

Bad

On the flip side, there are some alternate noodle options with little or no nutritional value. Chinese cellophane noodles are made from plant-based starches; while they are mild in flavor and have a pleasant texture, they don’t offer much in the nutrient department.

Possibly the worst offender is noodles made primarily from an indigestible substance called glucomannan. Sold as “miracle” or “shirataki” noodles, these babies are very popular with dieters because they are very low in calories. But they’re also low in flavor, and they have the consistency of rubber bands. Read more about the main ingredient in these noodles.

Bottom Line: There are some healthy alternatives to traditional wheat pasta. There are plenty of options, so choose what you like — just make sure it’s made from real food!

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Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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