Chew on this: 06/02

Whole-grain migraine

By Jayne Powers
One of the problems with eating the healthy, good stuff is that it doesn’t always taste so good.

For example, when I first experimented with whole-grain pasta, I remember it tasted overbearingly wheaty.

For years afterward, I stuck with standard pasta, the amber kind made from semolina durum wheat, thinking that I was making the healthiest choice for pasta. Almost any shape certainly tasted good and had the right bite.

From time to time, I’d see a new brand of whole-wheat pasta and think of trying it again, only for my memory to turn me off.

Now, I think we’ve come far enough along with manufacturing tactics to make tasty whole-wheat and even gluten-free pastas.

I will share a few of my favorite brands. I haven’t tried them all, of course, because there’s been a bumper crop of whole-grain and gluten-free pastas coming to the market throughout the past few years.

Besides tasting pretty good, if not real good, a quick rundown of the health benefits of eating whole-grain over refined pasta is worth the review.

Here’s my introduction: What comes to mind when you think of strip mining? I think of mineral deposits being extracted from the soil, destroying the land—not unlike the manufacturing process to make refined pasta and bread.

Wheat grains are stripped of their nutrient-rich bran shell and inner germ layer. Basically, lots of fiber and most nutrients are lost.

What’s left is the starchy endosperm, and that’s what standard pasta is made of. When a package says “enriched,” that means iron and some B vitamins were put back in. Even if it’s brown, “enriched” is still not whole-grain. It could just be caramel coloring or molasses. It doesn’t even matter if it says “organic” because it still could be standard pasta made from refined grains.

By choosing whole-grain pastas, you’ll get all of the nutrients, naturally, and be on your way to achieving the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation of making half of your daily grain intake whole grains. You’ll also reduce your risk of chronic conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes.

All good.

And, you don’t have to exclusively buy whole-wheat pasta to reap the health benefits. Other whole grains you’ll find in different shapes include KAMUT, quinoa, spelt and buckwheat, or soba, noodles, which are primarily found in Asian markets.

If you’re a food adventurer and try soba noodles, watch out for the sodium content per serving. I’ve noticed high levels—over 400 milligrams (mg) per serving.

When buying whole grains, it comes down to reading the label. The most important word to find at the top of the ingredient list is “whole.”

The easiest way to choose whole-grain pasta is to look for the “Whole Grains” stamp. It’s a yellow and black stamp that takes the guesswork out making healthy choices.

Although manufacturers pay for the privilege of placing the stamp on their products, their products are first tested by the nonprofit Whole Grains Council to ensure they meet their claims.

Another thing: compare fiber levels. The grams (g) per serving in whole-grain pasta compared to gluten-free pasta might be two to three times more.

On average, whole-grain pasta may have 4 to 7 grams per serving while gluten-free or standard pasta would mostly like have about 2 to 3 grams per serving.

That’s why I enjoy eating the Ancient Harvest brand of quinoa spaghetti: It has 4 grams of fiber. Just watch the cooking time because gluten-free pastas tend to get gummy if cooked too long.

For whole-wheat pasta, I like the De Cecco brand.

If you assume that pasta made with a vegetable, like spinach, is whole-grain and veggie-dense, you’d be wrong. Pastas made with vegetables only contain trace amounts (maybe 1 tablespoon) of veggies, and the grain is not necessarily whole.

Generally, whole-grain pastas pair better with heartier sauces. If you choose thin-grain pasta or some kind of shell, the whole-grain flavor will be muted even more.

Just experiment and search online for whole-grain pasta reviews, so you’re not overwhelmed in a grocery store trying to quickly analyze an increasing array of these food products.

Here’s a quick tip to make that easier: Get the Fooducate app through and use the bar-scan feature the next time you’re at the store.

Fooducate rates food nutrition labels on a scale of “A” through “D.” Scan the barcode, and you’ll get a rating. If your product gets, say, a “C,” you can ask Fooducate to list healthier choices for similar products, which is one of its most valuable features. You can also head over to to learn more.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at, or email your fitness questions to

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Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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