Who doesn’t enjoy a steaming plate of pasta with tomato sauce? Unfortunately, the tomato sauce is the healthiest thing about a bowl of pasta. Most pasta noodles are made from semolina flour, derived from durum wheat. Because it’s refined, the standard box of pasta you buy at the supermarket is low in nutritional value, although it contains B-vitamins and iron. What semolina pasta noodles lack is fiber and most of the micronutrients abundant in plant-based foods. It’s also hard on your blood sugar level, as eating a plate of pasta can spike blood glucose readings.
No wonder most health care professionals recommend more vegetables and less pasta and fewer refined foods. But these days, you can find pasta made from plant-based components, including beans and lentils. Is pasta made from beans or lentils healthier than pasta made from semolina flour?
The Health Benefits of Bean and Lentil Pasta
When you top bean or lentil pasta with tomato sauce, you get more fiber and protein. In fact, a serving of bean or lentil pasta offers almost double the protein that a serving of semolina pasta provides. With each serving of bean pasta, you get 23 grams of protein. That matters since protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and that helps you fight off the munchies later. The fiber content differs between the two as well. A serving of semolina pasta has only 4 or 5 grams of fiber per serving, whereas bean and lentil pasta boasts around 8 grams. This difference, too, is important for satiety. You also get more iron when you substitute bean or lentil pasta for pasta made from semolina.
The carbohydrate count between the two forms of pasta also differs, but not by a lot. A serving of semolina pasta has around 75 grams of carbs, while bean and lentil pasta has about 55 grams of carbs. The difference lies in how your body processes those carbohydrates. Semolina pasta, because of the lower fiber content, causes a sharper spike in blood glucose after you eat it, so it’s not as friendly to your metabolic health. The calorie count is not significantly different between the two. You’re still getting around 350 calories per serving.
If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle through strength training, substituting bean or lentil pasta for standard pasta made from semolina flour makes sense. The extra protein gives a muscle-building advantage, and the fiber from the beans may help with weight control.
Don’t forget that some studies link a diet rich in beans and lentils with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Some studies also link them with a lower risk of certain types of cancer, including cancers of the digestive tract, kidney, breast, and prostate. The high fiber and antioxidant content of beans may explain these findings, although more research is needed.
Types of Bean and Lentil Pasta
You can find pasta made with various types of lentils, including red lentils that are high in antioxidants, and a growing number of beans. Some of the most popular bean pastas are made from chickpeas, black beans, or edamame. Black beans stand out in that they’re dark in color, meaning they contain more antioxidants. When you top bean or lentil pasta with tomato sauce and an array of vegetables, you have a healthy, filling dish that’s sure to satisfy. Don’t forget to make that pasta dish as nutrient-dense as possible. Stick to tomato-based sauces over creamy ones.
Are there downsides to eating bean or lentil pasta? The high fiber content may be a problem for people who aren’t used to eating a high-fiber diet. Plus, beans contain lots of fermentable carbohydrates that are healthy for the gut but hard to digest. You might experience gas and bloating after eating them until your digestive tract adapts. If you soak beans before cooking them, it reduces the quantity of non-digestive carbohydrates and makes them easier to digest. But you don’t have control over that when you buy bean pasta.
Enjoy Pasta in Moderation
Even if you never develop a fondness for bean or lentil pasta, you can still enjoy standard semolina pasta in moderation without gaining weight. One study found when people ate an average of 3.3 servings of semolina pasta each week, along with a low-glycemic diet, they didn’t gain weight. The most likely reason is they ate other low-glycemic foods, including fruits and vegetables, and dined on pasta in moderation.
The study suggests that any kind of pasta can be part of a healthy diet if you eat modest amounts of it. Serving size matters too. Despite eating pasta, Italians don’t have high rates of obesity. However, their pasta portions are much smaller than the super-sized plates of pasta people eat in Western countries. So, add more veggies and scale back on the pasta!
The Bottom Line
If you need more protein and fiber in your diet, bean and lentil pasta is a better option than standard pasta made from semolina. However, an occasional serving of any pasta won’t harm your health or waistline, especially if you eat an otherwise balanced diet. But give bean or lentil pasta a try. You might discover it satisfies your pasta cravings and keeps you fuller longer too. Try a variety and see which one is your personal favorite! These days, you have a lot to choose from.
- Chiavaroli L, Kendall CWC, Braunstein CR, et a. lEffect of pasta in the context of low-glycaemic index dietary patterns on body weight and markers of adiposity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials in adults. BMJ Open 2018;8:e019438. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019438.
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- North Dakota State University Publications. “All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus (FN1643, Revised Feb. 2019)”
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