I don't want to give up pasta, but I don't want diabetes either!
April 26, 2012 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Is there any point to eating whole wheat pasta?

I'm a bit concerned about type-2 diabetes, and I keep reading that eating whole grains will help prevent diabetes (as opposed to causing it, like processed wheat, or just not doing anything at all).

But I can't see how whole-wheat pasta (supermarket available brands like this one) can be that much better for you! All research online has lead to either paleo-diet style EAT ONLY MEAT ALWAYS! or pasta-brand funded research.

I really love pasta! Can I eat whole-wheat pasta and feel good about it?
posted by AmandaA to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion (as a total layperson), the main advantage of whole-wheat pasta is that you need to eat much less to feel full.

Target store brand whole wheat pasta is the best I've found.
posted by miyabo at 9:07 AM on April 26, 2012

I like the whole wheat pasta, which has come a long way in terms of flavor in the past few years. It has significantly more fiber than regular pasta, which is why my nutritionist had suggested I use it when I make pasta. Also, it definitely takes less to feel full.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:17 AM on April 26, 2012

My boyfriend also eats it for the fiber and the fullness, but I'm not a fan. I've never found anything definitive about whether it is MUCH better for you, either, but even if it was I still wouldn't eat it more than occasionally.
posted by sm1tten at 9:23 AM on April 26, 2012

The stuff in the box isn't fantastic tasting, though it is more filling. Homemade whole wheat and egg pasta? That's where it's at. Super tasty, incredibly filling and really easy if you've got a stand mixer. I can get it made in about the time it takes to boil water.

The egg-to-flour ratio from Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio" is 2 parts egg to 3 parts flour (by weight!). A little extra egg or some olive oil is necessary with all whole wheat, which soaks up more than white flour. After kneading by hand for 7-10 minutes (less in the mixer), let it rest, roll it out on a floured surface in stages. The dough needs to relax for a few minutes after it's first rolling or it will become too elastic. Keep it well floured during all of this. Once it's thin, cut it into thin strips or squares or whatever and boil it in salted water as usual.

You can make a big batch. Solid pucks of dough or precut noodles freeze great. My wife and I probably get 3-4 meals out of a dozen eggs' worth of pasta.
posted by pjaust at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [31 favorites]

IMHO because of a few supporting facts, whole wheat pasta is better than regular pasta, but it's still a "sometimes" food.

The extra fiber in whole wheat pasta helps it digest more slowly in your body, so it lowers the glycemic index of the meal as a whole. This prevents your body from pumping out a ton of insulin in a "spike," which happens with sugary/white flour/processed foods.

But, whole wheat pasta is still a pretty high-calorie food and still, of course, carb-heavy.

My thoughts are to make any type of pasta a "sometimes" food, maybe 1-2 times per week, and to eat veggies and a protein with it (chicken? meatballs? peanut-style thai sauce and tofu?), which will also keep the glycemic index lower for the total meal, and be more nutritionally balanced.

But yeah, the whole "preventing" diabetes thing is probably referring to the lower glycemic index of whole wheat pasta. Some nutritionists argue about whether it's really better (like the paleo people you mentioned) and some people will say it depends on your genes/body's makeup/response to insulin (like the author of "Why We Get Fat).
posted by shortyJBot at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say whole wheat pasta is good for you. It's not something you should go out of the way to include in your diet (e.g. "eat leafy greens 4x per week and whole wheat pasta 3x per week") But it's a healthy alternative to processed-wheat pasta. e.g. "given that I like to eat pasta 4x per week, I will feel better and be healthier if at least 3x of those are whole wheat."
posted by aimedwander at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I eat whole-wheat pasta for its flavor, texture, and delicious aroma. Until you stop thinking of it as some kind of surrogate food and start enjoying it for what it is, you will not be able to eat it with anything resembling satisfaction.
posted by Nomyte at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure about whole grains preventing type II DM, I believe they just may not contribute to the formation of the disease. People use the word "prevent" in dodgy ways in popular health articles, but I could be wrong.

There are really two questions contained in what you've written, or I would note two questions. The first is "Does the amount of processed grain I have in my diet from eating pasta contribute to my risk for Type II DM, or how much does it do that?" And the second is, "Would eating whole grain pasta ameliorate that risk?"

For the first question the answer would depend on just how much pasta you're eating and what the rest of your diet looks like. Sugar is a much bigger contributor to DM risk, and other refined or easily digestible carbs can be big contributors. I would be surprised if your biggest dietary risks came from pasta consumption. I'd also point out that the rates of DM in Italy (PDF) are far lower than they are in the US, so there are likely other contributors to risk from the US diet.

For the second question, the issue is the difference in risk between the two foods. According to the several glycemic index charts I looked at across the web (here's the one from South Beach), the decrease in GI score for whole wheat pasta is only moderate compared to regular pasta.

Overall, I'd say that pasta, as part of a healthy diet, is not likely to be a huge risk factor in DM formation, and that there is no really compelling reason to choose whole wheat pasta, which, let's face it, tastes like shit.
posted by OmieWise at 9:44 AM on April 26, 2012

It's not a simple yes/no question, which I sense from your question that you're looking for. Diets with adequate fiber intake are associated with a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes, but that's not the same thing at all as saying that specific high-fiber foods will prevent diabetes.

The potential benefit of eating whole-wheat pasta has to be seen in the context of your diet overall. If you already get sufficient fiber in your diet (both soluble and insoluble), then switching to whole-wheat pasta may not be particularly essential. But if you have a low-fiber diet to start, it can be one good way to boost your intake.
posted by scody at 9:46 AM on April 26, 2012

Fiber. That's why we give it to my kids. Trust me when I say that you do NOT want to see a two-year-old that hasn't pooped in a couple of days, and you certainly don't want to be the one to change her diaper!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:57 AM on April 26, 2012

Mark Bittman said we should rethink pasta dishes: use a lot more sauce/toppings and a lot less pasta. I think this is a smart way to approach it, but to answer your question, whole grain carbs are still carbs, so treat them as a treat.
posted by Dragonness at 10:12 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whole wheat pasta, with few exceptions (e.g., bigoli), is in my opinion execrable. Or at the very least, not in any way a substitute for the real thing. I'd rather just eat less pasta. Some people, such as Nomyte and others, may be able to enjoy it under a different paradigm than regular pasta. That's totally legitimate, but not for me. I can't imagine working up a jones for whole wheat spaghetti al pomodoro.

(To be clear: I say this as someone who loves wholegrain breads.)
posted by slkinsey at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2012

The nutritionist for my Y always recommends whole grains, including whole grain pastas and whole grain breads (with an eye to the label to be sure they're really healthy). I like that I don't really notice the difference between whole wheat pasta and white pasta if the sauce and toppings and tasty enough. Although I do notice that I don't want as much of it, and it doesn't make me sleepy, which I take to mean that it doesn't affect my blood sugar as much.
posted by ldthomps at 10:21 AM on April 26, 2012

If I may make a suggestion: if you just can't live without pasta, limit your use and when you do splurge on pasta, try quinoa pasta.
posted by Lynsey at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2012

Studies come and studies go. That is not to say that they are not useful but rather that they come with so many caveats that it is hard for regular people to understand and implement in their lives. (Soy is good...but wait - fermented ones are better. Regular soy is not. etc)

My own philosophy is common sense and moderation. You like pasta? Eat pasta. In moderation. I cannot tell you what the moderation level is however.
You like the taste of whole wheat pasta? Eat whole wheat pasta. Or vice versa. Seeing they're both highly processed food, I would do so sparingly.

It is unfortunate that our culture seems hung up on finding ONE particular thing to prevent bad things from happening. It is unfortunately not that simple. There are myriads of things to look at. If you're afraid of diabetes type II, look at other aspects of your life. Lose weight if you need to. Exercise. etc.

I strongly believe you can trade one diabetes marker for another...to a point. For example you can take up marathon running which will enable you to eat far more pasta while keeping the chance of developing diabetes constant. But there is nothing that you can do that will enable you to eat as much pasta as you want (whole wheat or not)
posted by 7life at 10:46 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mark Bittman said we should rethink pasta dishes: use a lot more sauce/toppings and a lot less pasta.

Mark Bittman says crazy things sometimes. Don't even get me started on his nonsensical instructions on how to make a Margarita. In my opinion, where Americans went wrong with respect to Italian foods is that we started to think of the condiment as the game. Thus, American pasta and pizza is swimming in sauce, cheese, etc. whereas in Italian pasta and pizza the primary ingredient is the game and the condiments are adornments.
posted by slkinsey at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2012

Are you concerned about type II because of recent blood work or other symptoms? Family history?

Regular exercise and keeping the carb count down to a dull roar (not necessarily paleo) might be your best bet for staving off Type II diabetes. I don't think you have to confine yourself to whole wheat pasta; just keep your daily carb load manageable. A better bet would be to cut out, or cut way down on, soda and other HFCS or sugar-laden beverages. Drinking that s%(t is just about as close as you're going to come to an IV bag full of sugar.

I have no Type II indicators or family history of Type II; right now I am keeping carbs at 30-35% of my total daily intake. I use Fitday to help me track this info.

Or, what 7life said.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2012

Mark Bittman says crazy things sometimes. Don't even get me started on his nonsensical instructions on how to make a Margarita. In my opinion, where Americans went wrong with respect to Italian foods is that we started to think of the condiment as the game.

My point was, to make it healthier, particularly for a diabetic, it is smart to reduce the quantity of pasta by augmenting the amount of sauce/toppings. For a pasta lover this is a better alternative to no pasta at all.
posted by Dragonness at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to point out that although you're seeing a lot of web information on Paleo diets because that is the latest diet fad, you can just eat a low carb diet, it doesn't have to be officially 'Paleo'.

I have been eating a low glycemic load diet for the past month or so and I am a vegetarian (although not a very strict vegetarian, I eat some organic chicken that I make at home, and I eat fish). I have just hugely increased my intake of eggs and dairy, and eaten a lot of fake meat products like Morningstar/Boca/Quorn. Check out Your Lighter Side I have found some great pseudo-carbohydrate recipes there!

I am a pasta lover so I have been allowing myself to eat Dreamfields low glycemic load pasta about once every two weeks, as part of a primavera with Tofurky sausage and lots of veggies. I know that Dreamfields is not looked highly upon as being scientifically 'low carb', but as the other folks are saying... everything in moderation.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nomyte: "I eat whole-wheat pasta for its flavor, texture, and delicious aroma. Until you stop thinking of it as some kind of surrogate food and start enjoying it for what it is, you will not be able to eat it with anything resembling satisfaction."

Second this. But I only eat pasta 1x per week.

(I also think this is exactly how I feel about Domino's pizza. Once you stop thinking of it as pizza and start thinking of it as food, it is pretty good.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're worried about the possible "glycemic index" affects of eating pasta, the best thing to do is eat it with some fat, which will radically decrease the gylcemic index of the pasta dish.
posted by slkinsey at 11:33 AM on April 26, 2012

Pasta is bad for you, whole grain or not. Very bad for you. If you are concerned about diabetes you should not eat it, nor should you eat bread, rice or sugar (including honey).

Refined carbs are the ABSOLUTE worst, but whole grain carbs are still bad for you and if you are concerned about issues of weight, diabetes and heart health, you'd be doing yourself a favor to drastically cut back on carb consumption.
posted by imagineerit at 12:31 PM on April 26, 2012

The connection between whole grains and preventing diabetes is, I think, referring to eating the actual whole grains as a replacement for flours. Or as close as you can get. Refining it into pasta, whether with the germ or not, turns it into mostly empty calories.
posted by gjc at 1:09 PM on April 26, 2012

Paleo isn't necessarily all-meat or low-carb! If anything, it points to roughly balanced amounts of fat/carbs/protein.

But yeah, if you're eating pasta, it should be as a treat, not as a regular meal. Eating whole wheat pasta screws that up, because who likes that stuff? (If you're diabetic or particularly health-conscious, try about dropping the wheat altogether and see where that gets you.)
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2012

posted by thinkpiece at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2012

Pasta is bad for you, whole grain or not. Very bad for you. If you are concerned about diabetes you should not eat it, nor should you eat bread, rice or sugar (including honey).

This is really a gross oversimplification. Many people eat carbs without contracting diabetes. Asbestos is "very bad for you"; placing benign foodstuffs into this category is little better than dogma. High consumption of refined starches is not recommended by many organisations and health professionals, but then again, neither is high consumption of a lot of things like salt, fat, water... A moderate, balanced diet for a healthy person can easily accommodate some pasta, wholegrain or no.
posted by smoke at 4:41 PM on April 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

« Older How to get CrashPlan+ features on my own?   |   Like CPAC/CSPAN, But Online, And With Complaints... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.