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What's 'smart pasta'? Is it healthier than the regular stuff? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

What’s the difference between Catelli’s Smart pasta and whole-wheat pasta? The nutrition facts on the box are identical. Is one healthier?

THE ANSWER

If you scan the nutrition labels these two pastas do look the same nutritionally, making it difficult to know what’s an overall healthier choice.

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Both Catelli’s Smart pasta and whole grain pastas contain 310 calories and 8 grams of fibre along with equivalent amounts of protein and carbohydrate per 3/4 cup dry serving. And they’ve both been enriched with iron and B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. (Note that 3/4 cup of dry pasta yields about 1 1/2 cups of cooked pasta.)

From an overall health perspective, however, they are different. Smart pasta is made from semolina, a refined (white) wheat product. Refining wheat removes the outer bran layer where nearly all the fibre is as well as the inner germ layer that’s rich in nutrients, healthy fats and antioxidants. All that’s left is the starch component.

Pastas that are made from 100 per cent whole grain wheat have not been stripped of bran and germ. That means they have significantly more fibre, vitamins, minerals and protective phytochemicals.

To boost the fibre content of Smart pasta, Catelli has added oat hull fibre and inulin. Inulin is a carbohydrate found naturally in many plant foods including onions, leeks, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus. Inulin that’s used as an ingredient in food products, like Catelli Smart pasta, is isolated from chicory root.

Research has shown, that in certain doses, inulin helps promote the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the colon and increases how much calcium and magnesium the body absorbs. Studies also suggest that inulin can stave off hunger by promoting a feeling of fullness after eating. But there’s no evidence that eating foods with added inulin – pasta or otherwise – helps people lose weight. (In my opinion, eating a smaller portion of pasta is a far better weight-control strategy.)

Furthermore, isolated fibres like inulin may not have the same benefits as intact fibres in whole-grain foods. In terms of heart-disease prevention, studies find that whole grains from cereals and other grains are protective. The evidence for inulin is lacking.

So which one is healthier? Given the choice between Catelli’s Smart pasta and one made from 100 per cent whole grain, I recommend the whole grain version every time. If you’re not a fan of whole-wheat pasta, Smart pasta is more nutritious than regular white pasta. It has four times more fibre per serving (8 grams versus 2 grams per 3/4 cup dry) and offers the potential health benefits of inulin.

When it comes to nutrition, the pasta sauce counts too. Top your pasta with tomato sauce – it’s low in saturated fat and delivers plenty of vitamins A and C and lycopene, an antioxidant thought to protect from prostate cancer./

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel’sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com).

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Follow on Twitter: @lesliebeckrd

 

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