It used to be that you just had to pick between spaghetti or fettuccine, penne or cavatappi. But now, the pasta aisle is crammed with so many varieties of pasta — quinoa! corn! spelt! — that it’s become more of a library (reading all those stats…). So instead of letting smart marketing get the best of you, consult this guide to find the best pasta for you.
Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein
Good for: Believe it or not, regular pasta can have a place in a healthy diet. But it’s refined! you say. True; and it is best to eat most of your grains in their whole form. But when a recipe you’re making calls for other fiber-rich ingredients, like white beans, chickpeas, or lots of vegetables, it’s okay to use regular pasta every now and then. The taste of real, semolina pasta is hard to emulate with a whole grain version, and sometimes you just need that chewy, not-grainy texture. The other time to use regular pasta: when you want that perfect, unadulterated bowl of spaghetti, olive oil, and a pinch of pepper.
Pairs well with: high-fiber foods; olive oil and pepper; tomatoes and basil
Whole wheat pasta
Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1.5 g fat, 6 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 7 g protein
Good for: Whole wheat pasta brings a healthy serving of fiber to the table, a nutrient that most Americans are lacking in. Fiber boosts satiety, which is especially important in a pasta, as it’s all too easy to down a bowl with three times the appropriate serving size. But it also helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, boosts digestive health, and improves cardiovascular health.
Pairs well with: Hearty, flavorful sauces like pesto; robust tomato sauces like arrabiatta; pasta salads
Spinach Pasta (or other flavored varieties)
Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 200 calories, 1.5 g fat, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 7 g protein
Good for: Flavored varieties of pasta, be it spinach, tomato, or carrot, are good for one thing: presentation. Unfortunately, these vegetable-hued pastas won’t count towards your daily serving of vegetables. If you look on the ingredients list, you’ll see spinach, tomato, or another vegetable listed as one of the last ingredients; that’s because only a few grams of the freeze-dried produce is actually in the pasta. If you’re looking for vegetables, just add a handful of spinach!
Pairs well with: Thin or clear sauces, so that the color shines through. And serve it with a big salad!
Nutrition (2 oz, 1 cup cooked): 229 calories, 3.7 g fat, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 8 g protein
Good for: Because it’s made from a seed, quinoa pasta hits the trifecta of satiety-boosting nutrients: fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids (don’t let the higher fat content scare you; those are healthy fats!). Quinoa is also gluten free, making this a good option for those with a gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease.
Pairs well with: Anything: quinoa pasta has a mild flavor, so it won’t overpower delicate sauces. Since it offers fiber, you don’t necessarily have to pair it with fiber-rich sides (but vegetables are always a good idea!)
Brown Rice Pasta
Nutrition (2 oz): 190 calories, 3 g fat, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 4 g protein
Good for: Another good gluten free option, brown rice pasta offers both fiber and protein. But since it’s lower in protein than other varieties, it’s a good idea to pair it with protein-rich fare like chicken, shrimp, or beans.
Pairs well with: Brown rice pasta can be stickier and chewier in texture than other varieties, so pair it with thick and chunky sauces.
Nutrition (4 oz): 20 calories, 0.5 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 1 g protein
Good for: These Asian noodles are made from the flour of the Konjac yam and are extremely low in calories. They contain a type of fiber called glucomannan, which may help with cholesterol control; because they’re made with little else, they take on the taste of whatever sauce or ingredients they’re paired with (although some people think their smell is off-putting). These noodles are a good choice for those nights when you want to lose yourself in a big bowl of pasta, or if you have trouble with portion control when it comes with pasta.
Pairs well with: Flavorful sauces likes pesto and marinara. And because Shirataki noodles offer very little in the way of nutrition, pair them with lean protein and fiber-rich vegetables. Or, try Asian flavors: use them as the base in a stir-fry with teriyaki sauce or soy sauce.
Nutrition (1 cup, or about 5.5 oz): 42 calories, 0 g fat, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 1 g protein
Good for: Low in calories, spaghetti squash is a good vehicle for hearty, flavorful, chunky sauces — the kind where you really only want to taste the sauce and toppings anyway! It’s packed with fiber, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants. Spaghetti squash also works well in recipes that call for higher calorie toppings, like pesto, alfredo, or meatballs; the extra 200 calories from regular pasta won’t put your dinner over the calorie edge.
Pairs well with: Chunky vegetables sauces; sauces with meatballs; alfredo; pesto