What you need to know about the nutrition of your noodles. (Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo)
Traditional pasta has gotten a bad rap (high in carbs, full of white flour). But there are lots of other noodles on the market that can actually be — dare we say it — good for you.
“They may look and taste similar, but noodles can be made from many different raw ingredients — from wheat to buckwheat to seaweed — and their nutritional benefits vary,” nutritionist Jessica Marcus, MS, RD, tells Yahoo Health. But no matter which you choose, watch your portion sizes. “Between half a cup to a cup of cooked noodles should satisfy you without overloading your blood sugar,” Marcus says.
Here’s the 411 on which of these squirmy, squiggly edibles you should put on the dinner table, and which ones you should leave behind.
There are 425 calories in 4 ounces of traditional pasta. (Photo: Getty Images)
Think the “spaghetti” in “spaghetti and meatballs,” the “mac” in “mac and cheese.” But while common and available in virtually any grocery store, traditional pasta is not the healthiest noodle option.
“Compared to whole grain pasta, traditional white flour pasta is a more simple carb, so it’s broken down fairly quickly by the body, which can cause blood sugar spikes,” Marcus explains. “This not only results in the inevitable crash-and-burn that leaves you feeling sluggish, but also promotes fat storage.” Make these noodles healthier by cooking them al dente. “Al dente noodles are harder for your body to break down and therefore won’t cause as high a spike in blood sugar,” Marcus explains. The same goes for whole-grain or whole-wheat pastas because they contain more fiber.
There are 344 calories in 4 ounces of semolina noodles. (Photo: Flickr/Mandykoh)
“Semolina” describes a coarser grind of grain than what’s found in traditional flour and it can be made from wheat, corn, or rice, among other ingredients. “It’s used to make pasta since it tends to hold up better while boiling,” Marcus explains. When shopping for semolina, look for the words “whole semolina” on the label so you know your noodles are made with whole grains. “Regular semolina is considered a refined grain pasta, which doesn’t contain all the fiber and, therefore, lacks some of the health benefits of the whole grain alternative,” Marcus adds.
There are 410 calories in 4 ounces of quinoa noodles. (Photo: Flickr/Dana)
Quinoa seems to be everywhere these days and the pasta aisle is no exception. This is a good thing since “pasta made from 100 percent quinoa flour has all the nutritional benefits” of quinoa, explains Lee Gross, former personal chef to Gwyneth Paltrow, culinary director of New York’s Organic Pharmer, and consulting chef for LA’s M Cafe restaurants. These benefits include being a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine amino acids that the body needs. It also contains high levels of B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, riboflavin, and calcium. Plus, it’s gluten-free.
Related: 4 Tasty, New Ways To Enjoy Quinoa
There are 430 calories in 4 ounces of egg noodles. (Photo: Getty Images/Joe Potato Photo)
As the name implies, these noodles contain more eggs than traditional pasta. “Egg noodles offer a broader spectrum of nutrition than regular pasta, including higher amounts of protein and essential amino acids,” Gross tells Yahoo Health. They are also lower on the glycemic index so they won’t cause the same blood sugar highs and lows and, as a result, provide you with more sustained energy. However, they are low in fiber and have more cholesterol than traditional pasta.
There are 210 calories in 4 ounces of udon noodles. (Photo: Getty Images/4kodiak)
These thick, Japanese-style noodles have an appearance that lies somewhere between linguine and fettuccine. Many varieties actually look like white flour pasta and the similarities just start there. “They are traditionally made from durum flour and are usually refined, so they have a nutritional profile that’s similar to traditional Western pastas,” Gross explains. In other words, they don’t boast that much added nutrition. Opt for whole wheat udon when you can find it, although soba noodles are a healthier Japanese-style pasta.
Soba Noodles (Buckwheat Noodles)
There are 200 calories in 4 ounces of soba noodles. (Photo: Flickr/Snarkattack)
These noodles with origins in Japan are made from buckwheat, which is actually a seed. “But despite the name, they contain no wheat and are gluten free,” says Marcus. “Just read the label since not all soba pasta is 100 percent buckwheat.” Some blend wheat flour, which means they could contain gluten. Soba noodles are high in cholesterol-lowering fiber, as well as magnesium, which helps improve blood flow. “Fiber and magnesium also help control blood sugar, so these noodles can be a better choice for diabetics than traditional pasta,” Marcus adds.
Brown Rice Pasta
There are 400 calories in 4 ounces of brown rice pasta. (Photo: Getty Images/Rob Whitrow)
Thanks to the gluten-free trend, the popularity of rice pasta is on the rise. “One reason to choose rice pasta is if you’re wheat- or gluten-sensitive or have celiac disease, since it’s both wheat- and gluten-free,” Marcus says. However, nutrition-wise, it may not be better than other noodles out there. “Compared to whole-wheat pasta, brown rice pasta actually contains less fiber and less protein,” says Marcus. “And traditional white pasta is similar in nutrients to white rice pasta.” And as you can see, the calorie count is the same, too.
There are 10 calories in 4 ounces of kelp noodles. (Photo: Flickr/Pearl Pirie)
These clear, glossy-looking noodles are made from seaweed that’s been ground and mixed with salt and water. “Kelp pasta is great if you’re watching your weight since it only contains about 35 calories per half-cup cup serving,” Marcus says. (Regular pasta clocks in around 110 calories.) “And with only 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving, it won’t cause the rise in blood sugar the way traditional grain-based pastas do.” Added bonus? Kelp is loaded with bone-strengthening calcium and magnesium.
There are 20 calories in 4 ounces of shirataki noodles. (Photo: House Foods)
Like kelp noodles, you can think of these noodles, which have a yam flour base, as a dieter’s best friend. Available in a variety of shapes from flat fettuccine to long and lean linguine to macaroni style, they’re super low in calories. For example, a 4-ounce serving has just 20 calories and is low in carbs, fat, and sugar. This much traditional pasta could cost you more than 400 calories!
Mung Bean Pasta
There are 380 calories in 4 ounces of mung bean pasta. (Photo: Flickr/Bing)
This is one of the latest additions to the world of pasta. “There are plenty ‘alternative’ noodles available these days, but one of my favorites are those made from beans,” Gross tells Yahoo Health. “Besides being higher in protein and lower in refined carbohydrates, these pastas usually have a firm, springy texture, similar to a perfectly cooked ‘al dente’ wheat noodle.” They’re also a good source of iron and are gluten-free.
Black Bean Pasta
There are 360 calories in 4 ounces of black bean pasta. (Photo: Flickr/Bill Couch)
These dark, slim noodles are made with two simple ingredients: black beans and water. Because they are mostly beans, they’re a good source of protein with an estimated 25 grams per serving. They also contain 48 percent of your daily fiber needs and 26 percent of your daily iron needs, all while being gluten-free and having almost no sodium, saturated fat, or cholesterol.