You might assume the healthiest pastas on the grocery store shelves taste like cardboard. Or that the noodles will be so dense and chewy they’ll ruin the texture of your grass-fed meat sauce.
You’d be right about what’s in some of those boxes of fettucine and farfalle, but not all of them.
Here’s the thing: The evidence showing how bad refined carbs are for your health—think obesity, heart disease, and inflammation—just keeps building up. So, more companies have rushed to innovate in the space, creating healthier pastas made from ingredients like whole and ancient grains and legumes.
That means better healthy pasta options for all (even if your Italian grandmother would not approve).
To help you decide which boxes to throw in your basket, we taste-tested and evaluated the nutrition facts of many of the most popular brands. The healthiest pastas we ended up with are made of ingredients like organic quinoa, lentils, or chickpeas and are delicious enough to make you want a second bowl. Most (but not all) are gluten-free, and many are super high in protein.
One final note: If pasta is an occasional food for you, and you’d prefer to consciously enjoy homemade white-flour gnocchi at your fave bistro once a month, go for it! These are for if you’re craving penne with pesto every night and need a healthier way to make it happen.
The 5 Healthiest Pastas
This gluten-free spaghetti is made with just one ingredient: USDA-certified organic brown rice. And it’s the perfect choice for classic Italian dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or spaghetti and clams, since the flavor and texture is nearly identical to whole wheat pasta. The brand makes many other versions with rice, corn, and legumes and is pretty easy to find.
This pasta is called “Simply Legumes” because the only ingredient is red lentils (they also make versions with black beans, green lentils, and chickpeas), so it comes with all of the health benefits of those beans. That means tons of protein (20g) and fiber (11g) per serving, and other essential nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin B6. It’s certified gluten-free and USDA organic and is delish to boot.
You probably know Ancient Harvest from its blue boxes of quinoa. Its POW! protein pastas pair the ancient grain with legumes. The Green Lentil Penne is made with quinoa and green lentils; Black Bean Elbows are made with quinoa and black beans. Both are great for veggie pasta dishes since they provide more than 20 grams of protein per serving, plus 7g of fiber and a significant amount of iron. The lentil noodles have a very mild flavor so can be thrown into any dish, but you do taste the black beans, so consider that when deciding on your recipe. All of these pastas are gluten-free and Non-GMO verified, but they’re not organic.
Jovial also makes gluten-free pastas, but its rigatoni and fusilli made with certified organic, whole grain Einkorn—an ancient form of wheat—are the most unique and delicious. While Einkorn does contain gluten, it has 30 percent more protein and 15 percent less starch than commercial wheat and is a good source of antioxidants and minerals like zinc, manganese, magnesium, and iron. Made into pasta, it also provides bold, nutty flavor that will take any dish you’re making up a notch.
Banza’s the most visible, heavily marketed gluten-free pasta in the space, which means it’s often easier to find than others. Made with chickpeas and pea protein, it’s super high in protein and fiber and also provides iron and calcium. Its texture is nearly perfect, but it does taste more like garbanzos than pasta, so consider that flavor profile when choosing a sauce. Finally, it also contains xanthan gum, a natural thickening agent often used in gluten-free products for elasticity. It’s generally considered to be safe but has been found to potentially affect digestion. A few taste-testers (not everyone) on our team reported some digestive distress after eating Banza. That may be due to the xanthan gum or the simple fact that eating lots of beans just makes some people gassy.
Photos: Banza, Felicia Organic, Ancient Harvest, Banza