Everything You Need To Know About Diet Pasta

Photographed by Ali Gavillet.
Pasta comes in all different shapes, colors, and sizes, which is one of the most appealing things about cooking and eating it. But it can also make grocery shopping complicated. Is pasta made from garbanzo beans healthier? Is fresh pasta tastier than dried? If the noodles are green, does that make it a vegetable? What even is gluten-free pasta?
Then there are those so-called "miraculous" or "skinny" pastas and noodles that claim to contain zero calories, barely any carbs, and also count as keto, vegan, gluten-free, and organic. Technically, this type of "pasta" is shirataki noodles made from the konjac plant, which is a notoriously slimy Japanese yam. While the claims on the packaging might check all the health food boxes, there are a few things you should consider before you load up your cart.
First of all, these noodles are typically made from mostly water, 97% to be exact. The other 3% is soluble plant fiber, which is good for you in general and will certainly make you feel full. But food is more than just a substance to fill your stomach. "The whole point of food is to provide the body with both nutrition and satisfaction, and these 'miracle noodles' provide neither," says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in Lubbock, TX. For this reason, she's not a fan.
If you're craving a pasta dish, and you opt for these nothing-noodles, it might fill you up initially, but it probably won't satisfy your pasta craving, "leaving you seeking out more ways to fill that need," McMordie says. In other words, you'll play yourself. Lots of people have anxiety around pasta, simply because it's a carbohydrate-rich food, so they vow not to eat it. (Which, BTW, is not a great idea. Carbs are the body's main source of energy, so you kind of need them.) But often when you restrict or deny yourself a food, it leads to intensified cravings, followed by bingeing and over-eating. If you were to just eat the pasta that you were jonesing for in the first place, it would stop the cycle.
So, next time you're weighing your options in the pasta aisle, McMordie would recommend a more nutrient-dense option. "Whole wheat pasta or bean-based pastas are great choices," she says. "I like to mix a little bit of whole wheat pasta with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash if I'm craving more veggies." And sometimes, you've got to go listen to your craving for real white pasta, she says. At the end of the day, your feelings toward pasta might be a reflection of your relationship to food. Or, as they say on Vanderpump Rules, "It's not about the pasta."

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series