51 percent whole-wheat pasta: Health vs. flavor

Thursday, August 23, 2007
It may be healthier, but 51 percent whole-wheat pasta isn't as good as regular noodles. (Donald King ~ Associated Press)

We get energy from carbohydrates, and whole-wheat pasta is a healthier option because the wheat bran and wheat germ was left in the grain when it was ground into flour.

One study conducted by nutritional epidemiologist Nicola Mc-Keown at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass., showed that those who ate at least three servings of whole-grain foods per day had less problems with obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and poor blood sugar, all things proven to increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers food good sources of fiber if they have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.

The half whole-wheat pasta option has some of the eating-ease that regular pasta has. It isn't too thick or chalky, like mainstream whole-wheat pasta. But it doesn't exactly dissolve in your mouth, either. It tastes as if you accidentally dumped sand into the pot you used to cook the penne. There's just a faint flavor of dirt.

Although whole grains are good for you, the truly healthy thing about it is that you eat less when your meal is less enticing.

But let's think of it another way: as a vehicle for assorted toppings. My favorite single-girl-in-the-city way to make pasta is simply to boil it up and toss it with chopped grape tomatoes, shredded Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil. Mix in some capers, and you've got yourself a passable dinner.

If you just think of the best part of that meal as the capers, tomatoes, cheese and oil, then who the cares what's underneath? If it's good for you, all the better. Like medicine in a spoonful of sugar.

And I should give Barilla some credit: I'm just one, finicky person. My sister loved it, and I was more accepting the second time I made a bowl. Maybe it's an acquired taste.

Barilla isn't the only whole-wheat pasta maker; there are plenty of competitors, trying newfangled things with whole-wheat, rice, soy and whatever else can be shaped into an acceptable-looking rotini. But they are trying to give us both -- fiber and flavor -- in the same box. The battle between waistline and taste buds marches on.

Southeast Missourian writer Chris Harris contributed to this report.

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