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Ask the Expert: Noodles

You want to know: The pasta aisle has exploded in recent years. In addition to different shapes, I now see dried noodles made from chickpeas and black beans. And recipes are calling for zucchini or spaghetti squash “noodles.” Is there a clear nutritional winner here? Should I stop buying traditional pasta?

THE DIETITIAN SAYS: According to Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dietitian Erin Castle, RD, LD, there is not a “best” noodle or noodle alternative on the market. “The best option depends on your specific nutritional needs, which can vary from day to day and meal to meal,” she explains. 

LET’S EXPLORE THE OPTIONS:

  • Traditional noodles: Traditional dried pasta is made from refined semolina and durum flours and is typically fortified with B vitamins and iron.
  • Whole-grain pasta: Whole-grain noodles are less refined than traditional pasta and contain more fiber and protein and less calories.
  • Chickpea, black bean and edamame noodles: Made from legumes, these gluten-free alternatives have more protein and fiber, and a lower glycemic index, or carbohydrate content, than traditional pasta.
  • Spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles: With mild flavor profiles, you can swap spiralized zucchini or baked spaghetti squash filling for noodles to increase the nutrient density of a meal and reduce calories and carbs.
  • Shirataki noodles: Also known as “pasta zero,” these noodles come packaged in water and are made from a blend of konjac (a root vegetable found in Asia) and chickpea flour. They are gluten-free, low calorie and high in fiber.

THE TAKEAWAY: “When choosing a noodle option, consider your nutritional needs for the meal,” says Castle. If you’re topping the noodles with a simple marinara sauce or some sautéed veggies, you may benefit from protein-packed chickpea or edamame noodles. If you add a lean protein like shrimp and pair the pasta with a leafy green salad, traditional or whole-grain noodles would be fine. “For those who can eat gluten, the carbohydrates from noodles aren’t unreasonable,” says Castle. “In fact, carbohydrates are the brain’s primary energy source.” If you’re looking to increase your veggie consumption for the day and are getting ample protein elsewhere, try zucchini or squash noodles in place of regular spaghetti—or do half and half. 

YOU ASK, WE’LL ANSWER: Send your nutrition and diet-related questions to our editor at molly@charlestonmag.com and get the experts to weigh in.

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