I’ll start with a disclaimer: my Italian husband and I built an entire company on high-quality, nutritious pasta.
We both love pasta and we believe it’s one of the most versatile, delicious ingredients in the world.
We also know that pasta has the potential to become a nutritional powerhouse when crafted with care and a bit of innovation. An example? our buckwheat and chickpea pasta specifically crafted to support active women throughout their days.
So if you want a quick answer to “Is pasta healthy?” here you have it: YES, when it’s made properly.
So why the alarming title? Is pasta healthy or not?
Are there any dark secrets about pasta in the first place?
Unfortunately, yes. And by the time you reach the end of this post, you won’t look at your good old noodles in the same way.
A few years ago we embarked on a journey to find out more about what’s behind the pasta we commonly find on the supermarket shelves.
The thing is: what we found out was not good news.
In fact, it was alarming and disheartening. Once we heard and seen for ourselves what big brands are doing to our favourite food, we felt a mix of anger, sadness and disgust.
That’s when we knew it was time to use our expertise in food and health research to create an alternative.
So we know the question: is pasta healthy? Let’s find out the answer.
From the field to the supermarket’s shelf is a long journey! And there are many pitfalls along the way, and many corners that can be cut to save a few cents.
As you’ll see, chances are that the pasta in your cupboard might have been cooked already 3 times, before even coming out of the packaging!
Shocking, isn’t it?
Note: this is a long read, but I promise it’s full of information and tips on how to pick the right pasta for you.
So is pasta healthy or not?
#1: They use dead flour
First of all, a stone mill is generally slower than an industrial one. This means the temperature remains low to preserve the nutritional and flavour profile of the ingredients.
Modern industrial mills, when not properly cooled down, reach very high temperature and “cook” the food, destroying part of their nutrients and altering their biological structure.
Second, mass-produced pasta is made with extremely refined flour. Which is another name for extremely nutritionally-poor flour.
Fibre, minerals, essential oils. Most of the natural qualities of the ingredients will remain at the mill.
High-quality traditional mills, on the contrary, will not grind the flour so finely.
And this, as you guessed, is a very good thing!
But why would anybody do this to their ingredients if it is so bad?
Glad you asked.
First, it’s cheaper. It takes less time and they can process a higher quantity of flour.
It’s also a great way to mask ingredients that were low quality in the first place.
Lastly, when you remove all the live components from the flour, you have something that is essentially dead.
And it turns out that dead flour can be stored for months or even years.
So, lesson number one: make sure the pasta you buy is made with high-quality ingredients, in a way that respects them and enhances them, and with flour that is freshly milled right before making the pasta.
Bad news: not many pasta brands match this description (not even some organic and artisan ones!)
Good news: we have a brand in mind to suggest you that does exactly that!
#2: The lower the quality of the pasta, the smoother it is going to be. (plus: gluten free flours are often pre-processed)
To make pasta, you add water to the flour, mix it and then extrude it to give it the shape you desire.
What could possibly go wrong here?
As we’ve seen above, it’s very important to keep the temperature low throughout the process in order to achieve:
- maximum taste,
- outstanding nutrition
- easy digestion.
Let’s start from the mixing temperature. What you are looking for is a producer that mixes the flour with cold water to preserve the ingredients.
A word of caution about gluten free pasta here
As you probably know, gluten is what keeps regular pasta together. Using flours that do not contain gluten makes it more difficult to create a pasta that is as strong and resistant as the classic one.
For this reason, many gluten free producers treat their flours with a process called “starch gelatinization“: when the starch is added to the water at high temperatures (60° – 80°) it swells, increasing in volume and altering its structure to make it easy to handle.
Corn flour is an example of a flour that often goes through such a process.
As you can imagine this changes the ingredients and affects the nutritional profile of the end product.
Is pasta healthy when it’s made this way? There are no studies nor reasons to believe that pre-treated flour is bad for you, but we like to think that fresh flour processed as little as possible is better!
I’ll tell you a quick story to show you how common this process is.
When we were looking for the right machines to prepare our pasta, we had a meeting in Parma, Italy with one of the country’s best pasta machines manufacturer.
We started by showing them a sample of our pasta. They asked a few questions about our process, so we just told them that we would use a traditional, simple method to prepare it.
Them: Wait, but what about the pre-treatment of the flour?
Them: You can’t make gluten-free pasta without altering the structure of the flour!
Us: yes we can! You’re holding a sample in your hands, right now.
Them: No, probably the flour is pre-processed.
Us: No, we know our supplier very well! Just show us a traditional machine, we don’t need any other extra equipment.
They made us call our supplier in front of them, and only when they heard the supplier confirming that the flour was indeed 100% fresh and natural, they started to believe that maybe what we were saying was possible.
It was so hard for them to accept the idea that you can make wheat-free pasta without pre-treating the flour because so many manufacturers use this process every day.
Bronze vs Teflon: a difference you can taste
Last but not least, more often than not, mass-produced pasta is extruded with Teflon dies.
Why? Because they are cheaper and faster. Teflon dies create the kind of even, smooth, shiny pasta that sauce won’t stick to.
With traditional bronze dies, we can craft a pasta that is rough and more porous, so that it will hold on to your sauce for a rich, flavourful mouthful. Plus, pasta extruded with bronze will feel lighter and more delicate.
In a nutshell: the lower the quality of the pasta, the smoother it is going to be.
But there’s more. Studies are being performed to research how Teflon dies might affect the digestibility of the pasta itself, not only its outer structure. We’ll keep an eye on further development and we will definitely let you know!
#3: They dry the pasta at high-temperature. This makes it long to cook and hard to digest.
Imagine giant pasta plants.
Plants that can process tonnes and tonnes of pasta every single hour.
Imagine being able to cut production time by a good few hours every cycle. This, multiplied by the huge volumes manufactured every day, could save a lot of money.
And it does.
The problem? This also damages the pasta.
Mass-produced pasta is dried quickly at high temperature. The very little that remained after using dead flour and the industrial mixing and extruding process, gets stripped away by this step.
The nutrients are gone, the protein “shrinks” together and the pasta becomes like rocks in your belly.
Heaviness and bloating anyone?
That’s why savvy, artisan producers slow dry their pasta at low temperature. They value their work and the quality of what they produce, and they won’t destroy it all only to save some time and money.
It turns out that high-quality pasta is a process that can’t be rushed.
It started with a question: “Is pasta healthy?”
The answer brought us to discover something truly shocking.
But I want to end this overview about what’s behind mass-produced pasta on a happier note.
Increasing numbers of consumers are getting more and more aware of what they eat, and more demanding for high-quality foods that will nurture their bodies and mind instead of damaging them.
This has led to an increase in smaller, artisan producers that respect their products and their customers. In the meanwhile, big corporations and brands are rapidly losing their momentum.
That’s why sharing this kind of information is so important: an informed customer is a healthy customer.
There are great alternatives out there. You don’t have to give up on pasta, just pick a better one.
Maybe this will force also bigger brands to come around and reconsider their production policies.
In the meanwhile, have a look at our PastaMagic and see if it is something for you. It’s made in Italy with organic buckwheat and chickpeas, using traditional methods.
It’s unique in its kind as it is tailored to the lifestyle of active women.
Loving yourself starts with your next meal, make it a good one!