A very common question regarding a plant-based diet is, ‘Can you eat pasta on a plant-based diet?’ Pasta is so ubiquitous that you cannot really avoid it. Also, it can be quite convenient, as many pasta dishes are super quick and easy.
Pasta is essentially plant-based, but is it healthy? That’s a whole other story. Whether or not healthy, it’s an American favorite. According to the National Pasta Association, Americans consume 2.7 million tons of pasta annually, the most of any country.
Although it’s common for people to eat pasta every week, many people are walking away from it. Due to its high carb content, pasta does not enjoy a favorable position in the fitness world. However, there are ways to include it in your diet and avoid health risks.
What is Pasta Exactly?
Pasta is made from whole grains, water, or eggs. Wheat is the most common grain used in pasta. This mixture comes in many shapes, with each shape having its unique name.
Although wheat is the common grain in pasta, there are other grains in pasta as well, including buckwheat, barley, and rice. It’s cooked by boiling in water, which does not take very long.
Pasta is a kind of noodle, so it’s the descendant of noodles from Asia. However, it’s the Italians that made pasta a vital part of their cuisine and culture. So when you think of pasta, you think of Italian cuisines. That said, many countries have their own unique pasta.
Varieties of Pasta
The pasta aisle in the grocery stores is perhaps the most fun. There’s just so much variety in terms of shapes and textures. Of course, it also varies by the grain it’s made of.
The texture and shape of the pasta can determine what kind of sauce and topping it’s best for. For instance, Rigatoni has a ridged surface, which makes it more adhesive for the sauce and cheese. Similarly, Farfalle (butterfly pasta) works really well in salads and creamy sauces.
Here are the most popular pasta varieties:
Is Pasta a Carb?
Pasta is a highly carb-rich food. While the actual amount of carbs may vary by each kind of pasta, almost all types are mostly carbs.
According to USDA data, a cup of cooked spaghetti (140 grams) has about 42.8 grams of carbs. Therefore, a little over 30% of this spaghetti is just carbs. That’s just an example of how rich pasta really is in carbs.
It also contains fiber, but that makes a smaller portion of it comparatively. In most pasta varieties that are made from processed flour, these carbs are starchy. As a result, they break down into sugars, like glucose.
This richness in carbs is what makes pasta unhealthy if eaten in large amounts. Too many carbs, and that too bad carb, is a big red flag.
Is Pasta Good For You?
The carbs from pasta can provide you with ample fuel for your day to day activities. After all, carbs are the preferred means of energy for the body. So in a way, pasta helps you achieve your daily carb intake.
Pasta also contains some minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. However, these are in very little quantities, so you’ll also need to consume other sources that are rich in these minerals.
On the other hand, the same carbs that give you energy can also have a negative impact. There are known health hazards of eating too many carbs:
Carbs can increase the amount of fat in your body, and therefore, increase your weight. There are studies to prove this. One study found that dietary carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, such as pasta, are linked with the weight increase.
In contrast, a different study found that people on a low GI diet still lost weight consuming pasta. Perhaps that’s because the overall carb intake is only of low GI carbs, which don’t make you gain weight.
Carbs breakdown into sugars that can spike blood sugar levels quickly. Too much of these sugars raise the likelihood of type II diabetes. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high quantities of carbs can potentially increase the risk of type II diabetes. This study focused on women in the US.
Refined Pasta vs. Whole-Grain Pasta
White pasta or refined pasta often overshadows other varieties such as whole-grain pasta. Refined pasta, although enriched during processing, loses most of the nutrients of the grain. Fiber-rich parts like the bran do not end up in white pasta.
Whole-grain pasta is much healthier than the refined ones. It maintains a higher level of minerals such as magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and also, B Vitamins. More importantly, it has a higher content of fiber because of the whole-grain.
As a result, whole-grain pasta has fewer calories and higher fiber. The latter is incredibly healthy and has many benefits. You will feel relatively fuller with whole-grain pasta than you would with refined white pasta.
Take a look at the nutrient breakdown of each as per USDA FoodCentral database:
|Refined Pasta, cooked||Whole-Grain Pasta, cooked|
|Vitamin B1 (mg)||0.2||0.15|
|Vitamin B6 (mg)||0.04||0.09|
This nutrient breakdown is for 100 grams serving. As you can see, every 100 grams of whole-grain pasta has nine fewer calories. Also, certain minerals are present in significantly higher amounts in whole-grain pasta.
As far as nutritional health is concerned, whole-grain pasta is a clear winner. The fiber in this pasta can regulate digestion and make you feel fuller. Also, this type of pasta would not pose obesity and diabetes risks as much as refined pasta would.
Is Pasta Gluten Free?
Can you eat pasta on a plant-based diet if you’re gluten intolerant? No, at least not the traditional pasta.
There’s another big issue with pasta, and that’s gluten. Since most varieties of pasta, including whole-grain, come from wheat, it’s not suitable for those with gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat and barley.
Nevertheless, all hope of eating pasta is not lost for gluten-free individuals. There are quite some gluten-free varieties of pasta made from grains other than wheat. If you have celiac disease, you should avoid traditional pasta and stick to gluten-free only.
This is also good news for people who follow a gluten-free diet just out of preference. Pasta dishes like Spaghetti Bolognaise and Fettuccine Alfredo are quite common and super delicious. That does not mean gluten intolerant people cannot enjoy these.
Here are some gluten-free pasta varieties:
Chickpea Pasta: Chickpea pasta is relatively new and becoming very popular. It looks quite like the regular pasta but has a chewy texture. Also, it has a distinct chickpea flavor.
More importantly, this pasta is rich in protein and fiber. It goes without saying how important these two nutrients are.
Brown Rice Pasta: Brown rice is a whole-grain, and its flour is most popular for making gluten-free pasta. As you know, brown rice is rich in fiber and certain minerals, as compared with white rice. All these extra nutrients end up in your pasta too.
Quinoa Pasta: Quinoa pasta is made with quinoa primarily, but there are also other gluten-free grains like rice and corn. It has a particularly nutty flavor, different from the traditional wheat pasta.
Like chickpea pasta, quinoa pasta is also a great source of protein. It can give you the essential amino acids. Perhaps it’s a good option for those people as well who are trying to cut down carbs.
Can I Eat Pasta on This Diet?
Can you eat pasta on a plant-based diet? Yes, but you can go a step ahead to ensure that it gives you maximum health benefits possible. As a carb-rich food, there’s a very fine line between good carb pasta and bad carb pasta.
As is the case with most carbohydrates, portion control is the key. Pasta portions in restaurants are extremely high in calories. If you eat that entire portion, not only will you consume more calories, but also exceed your daily carb intake threshold.
How Much Pasta Per Person in a Day?
There’s no standardized portion of pasta as such. How much pasta you eat also depends on how many calories in pasta combined with other ingredients are. Similarly, it also depends on your fitness goal, whether you’re trying to maintain, lose, or gain weight.
The British Nutrition Foundation’s Eatwell Guide suggests a portion of pasta in a two-hand cup. In other words, they recommend keeping the portion of pasta 180 grams (just the pasta). As per USDA data, 180 grams of simple, cooked pasta would come to about 283 calories.
Portioning foods that are not whole-foods can be tricky. Pasta is definitely one such food as you also have to take into account the sauce, the fats, and the vegetables.
Tips on Making Pasta Healthy
You can make pasta a regular thing in your plant-based diet if you do it right. You can certainly circumvent the few health hazards linked with eating pasta. Here are some helpful tips for doing that:
- Eat whole-grain pasta instead of refined white pasta
- Add a lot of vegetables in the pasta
- Avoid using a lot of fats (oil, butter, cheese, etc.)
- Use pasta in salads
- Make the sauce at home with fresh whole-food ingredients
- Have a strict portion control
Is Pasta a Grain?
Pasta is a grain product, especially whole-grain pasta. Most pasta varieties are made from wheat, which is a whole-grain. Another whole-grain popular for making pasta is rice. It’s a plant-based food product.
What is Pasta Primavera?
Pasta Primavera is an American pasta dish that came around in the 1970s. First invented in a restaurant in New York, it has gone on to become one of the classic American dishes that use pasta.
It’s a plant-based dish using pasta and a variety of vegetables. It uses penne pasta usually, which absorbs the lemon juice and olive oil pretty well. This is one of those dishes you can make using leftover veggies in your fridge. Also, it does not take a lot of time.
Is Pasta Keto?
Can you eat pasta on a keto diet? If you’re on a keto diet, you should avoid eating pasta, especially refined ones. As a low-carb diet, Keto does not allow carb-rich foods like pasta. You may be able to get away with a cup of whole-grain pasta. Generally, it has fewer calories and carbs.
However, if you eat pasta, that would mean you cannot eat any other carbs during the day. A better approach to enjoying pasta dishes is to use pasta alternatives instead. You can use low-carb flour like almond flour to make your own pasta. Many keto followers use spiralized, or mandolin cut veggies instead of pasta. This is a tasty and healthy alternative to eating traditional pasta.
Can Pasta Help to Gain Weight?
Pasta is filled with carbs, which can help you gain weight. Gaining weight can be challenging on a plant-based diet. However, you can rely on carb-rich foods like pasta to gain a few extra pounds.
Similar to how you decrease portion to lose weight, you’ll have to increase the portion to gain weight. Therefore, you’ll need to eat more pasta than you would usually eat. To ensure the weight you gain is muscle mass, you could add protein-rich legumes, tofu/tempeh and vegetables to your pasta.
Pasta is comfort food in many households. Even though it’s mainly popular as Italian cuisine, it’s pretty versatile. However, it’s imperative that you opt for healthier varieties of pasta and consume less of the traditional white pasta.
So can you eat pasta on a plant-based diet? Yes, as long as you’re able to achieve your health and fitness goals. Also, it’s totally fine to eat those calories juggernaut pasta dishes once in a while.
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