The Mediterranean way of eating is characterized by an abundant intake of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans/lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. As the pyramid’s foundational foods, the guidance is: Base every meal on these foods. (https://oldwayspt.org)

One may ask, where does pasta fit?  Pasta-based meals are central to the Mediterranean way of eating.  Pasta is traditionally made from refined or whole durum wheat.

In the traditional milling of wheat, the bran and germ are removed resulting in refined or white wheat flour. This process removes most of the beneficial fiber and nutrients.  Because of this loss, federal regulations require the enrichment of refined white flour with certain B-vitamins and iron.

The Med approach encourages the inclusion of whole grains. The flour used to make whole wheat pasta retains most of the bran and germ, providing important nutrients and twice the fiber of refined white flour. Fiber helps promote feelings of fullness and provides food for healthy gut bacteria.

With the bran and germ retained, whole wheat pasta (sometimes brands use whole grain wording) can have a hearty flavor (mild nutty versus neutral) and a slightly different texture (chewy, while soft) compared to refined wheat pasta. This mild nutty flavor is easily blunted by other ingredients and sauces.  There is little price difference between refined and whole wheat pastas.

With today’s emphasis on plant-based eating patterns, supermarket shelves have exploded with wheat-free alternative pastas. Ingredients may include corn, brown rice, legume flours (chickpea, lentils, spelt), quinoa, edamame, pea protein and vegetable purees. 

Importantly, all these nutrient-rich ingredients are included in the Med approach to eating. Taste and textures vary between brands, depending on the ingredients and shapes.  Legume and quinoa flours tend to be higher in protein, which can boost the protein in vegetarian diets. Non-wheat pastas are gluten-free.

When exploring alternative pasta options, consider those with at least 10 g protein and 5 g fiber per 2 oz. dried serving.  Wheat pastas provide 7-8 g protein per serving.  Two-ounces dried pasta yields generally 1 cup cooked, depending on its shape.

Dried pasta is the perfect pantry staple with its long shelf life and low-price.  It’s versatile and a perfect base for entrees and cold pasta salads.

Picking pasta tips:

  • Look for whole wheat in the ingredient list of dried wheat pasta. 
  • Mix white and whole wheat pasta to ease the switch to whole wheat and try different shapes for acceptance. 
  • Dare to give alternative pastas a try and be attentive to the cooking directions.  
  • Don’t expect whole wheat and alternative pastas to taste exactly like white refined pasta. Each has their own unique flavor and texture.
  • Compare the protein and fiber content of pastas and consider when making a choice.

Check out Eating Well’s 30-minute recipes using whole wheat pasta: https://www.eatingwell.com/gallery/12278/30-minute-whole-wheat-pasta-recipes-that-actually-taste-good



About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically-managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.