Mmmmmmm, pasta.

Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
March 09, 2020

When I went to Italy a few years ago, I almost cried over my cacio e pepe (my husband says he saw a tear, but I don't know). Either way, that bowl of noodles, cheese and black pepper was so delicious that it made me wonder why so many people shun pasta. I know low-carb diets are popular, but pasta itself is often treated as its own special category of food to avoid. But as a registered dietitian (and Italian-American) pasta will always have a place in my diet. Here's why I love it and I think it deserves a spot on your plate too.

Pictured recipe: Spinach & Mushroom Tortellini Bake

I love pasta...here's why

  • It's delicious.
  • It's fast.
  • It's cheap.
  • It's versatile
  • The whole family loves it.

Those are the big reasons and they're all pretty good ones. Pasta night is one of the easiest nights of the week for my family, as far as dinners go. I can make peanut noodles, mac and cheese or a pot of pesto pasta with vegetables and everyone (toddler included) is satisfied. Plus, I usually get at least one meal of leftovers. Pasta costs around $1-2 per box (that's under $0.20 a serving) and it's an affordable way to feed hungry mouths. Plus, there are so many pasta recipes that clock in at 30-minutes or less. And, while I may not make dishes that bring people to tears—pasta always turns out tasty.

Why pasta is good for you

Now, if you agree with me on all of that—but you still think pasta is "bad" for you. Here's what you should know.

Two ounces of dried white pasta has about 200 calories, 7 grams of protein (that's more than an egg) and 2 grams of fiber, along with iron and B vitamins.

Choose whole-wheat pasta and you'll get a little bit more protein and 7 grams of fiber. Bean-based pastas are another way to up your protein and fiber intake (but they do taste a little different compared to traditional pasta).

Pasta may be a carbohydrate-rich food but it also delivers lots of important nutrients. It's certainly not empty calories.

I know what you're thinking. Who eats just one serving of pasta? Most of us do eat more, but not the equivalent of a never-ending bowl of pasta. About one cup of cooked pasta (for most shaped that's two ounces dry pasta) mixed with vegetables can be a satisfying portion for many people. But if you eat two whole cups of pasta, that's only about 400 calories (plus 14 grams of protein and vitamins and minerals). That's not too shabby for a two cup serving.

Another thing to note—the Mediterranean Diet consistently ranks as the top diet to follow for better health. Guess what? Pasta is a part of that diet. It's not that you should eat it for every meal, but it can absolutely be included in a healthy diet.

Now, let's say you have a special diet concern. If you have diabetes, there are plenty of ways to make pasta fit in your diet (choose whole-grain or bean varieties more often, bulk it up with veggies and protein, choose sauces without too much sodium). Try these diabetes-friendly pasta recipes. If you're gluten-free, you can cook with gluten-free pastas, which have come a long way.

Why you should eat the foods you love

First of all, life is short (and I wrote about what that means for your diet here). But if you restrict foods you like, you're more likely to binge on them later. Maybe for you that's not pasta, maybe it's rice or ice cream or gummy bears. Whatever it is, if you ban it from your diet, you're more likely to overdo it when you finally do eat those foods again.

Sometimes food is about more than it's nutritional value. It's convenient. It helps us celebrate with our family. It doesn't cost us an arm and a leg. Plus, even though it's been put down over and over again, pasta actually isn't bad for you. There—I said it and I meant it.

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.

Advertisement