Gluten-free pasta is readily available for those who have to eat gluten-free, and can provide a quick and delicious meal option. I compared 35 different gluten-free and wheat pastas to find out if gluten-free pasta was a healthy meal option and how it stacks up against wheat pasta.
Is Gluten-Free Pasta Healthy?
Gluten-free pasta is healthy food option when part of a balanced diet for those who must eat gluten-free. While high in protein & fiber content, gluten-free pasta is also high in carbs, so eating gluten-free pasta in moderation is important. Some whole grain and legume gluten-free pastas are healthier than the most common gluten-free pasta.
I compared gluten-free pastas made with 6 different ingredients types, and found nutrients per serving can very widely between types of pasta. The 6 different gluten-free pastas compared were:
- Corn & rice
- Brown rice
- Quinoa & rice
- Red lentil
While Gluten-free pasta made with a combination of corn and rice is the most common type of gluten-free pasta, and probably the most similar to wheat-based pasta in appearance, it is not the healthiest option. Corn and rice past has more more carbs and less fiber, less protein, less calcium, less Iron, and less potassium than most other types of gluten-free pasta.
The table below compares the nutrients and % daily values of corn & rice gluten-free pasta to red lentil and buckwheat gluten-free pasta. While not shown in the table below, brown rice and chickpea gluten-free pasta also offer better nutrition than corn & rice gluten-free pasta. All pastas compared had a serving size of 2oz.
|Nutrient Facts of Gluten-Free Pasta – 2oz serving size||Corn & Rice|
|Total Fat||1g – 2%||1g – 2%||1g – 2%|
|Carbohydrates||44g – 16%||35g – 13%||34g – 12%|
|Dietary Fiber||2g – 5%||6 – 21%||5 – 18%|
|Protein||4g – 8%||14g – 28%||8g – 16%|
|Calcium||0.3mg – 0%||9mg – 1%||0mg|
|Iron||0.3mg – 2%||3mg – 17%||2mg – 11%|
|Potassium||32mg – 1%||504 – 11%||0mg|
While some of the gluten-free pastas are healthier than other gluten-free pastas, it’s important to recognize that the standard serving size of 2oz may be less pasta than you usually consume for a meal, and exceeding the serving size can greatly increase the number of calories and carbs you consume. If you eat 4oz of pasta for a given meal, you’ll double your calorie intake from about 200 calories to 400 calories, and you’ll double your carbs intake from about 15% to 30% of the daily recommended value.
The takeaway: When choosing between gluten-free pasta options, remember the most common gluten-free pasta, corn & rice, is not the healthiest option, and that the serving size may be misleadingly small.
Is Gluten-Free Pasta Healthier than Regular Pasta?
Gluten-free pasta is not healthier than regular pasta and it does not offer superior nutritional benefits. Those who must eat gluten-free for medical reasons would derive the most benefit from eating gluten-free pasta.
Additionally, gluten-free pasta is more expensive than regular pasta, doesn’t keep as well, and has worse texture, so those who are able to consume gluten derive no real benefit from eating gluten-free pasta.
The table below shows a comparison of the average gluten-free pasta nutrients and % daily values to that of wheat and whole wheat pasta. Looking at the nutrient facts side by side, it’s clear to see that gluten-free pasta isn’t providing superior nutrition.
|Nutrient Facts – Gluten Free Vs Wheat Pasta – 2oz serving size||Average of Gluten-Free Pastas||Wheat Pasta||Whole Wheat Pasta|
|Total Fat||2g – 2%||1g – 1%||1g – 2%|
|Total Carbs||41g – 15%||42g – 15%||39g – 14%|
|Dietary Fiber||3g – 11%||2g – 8%||5g – 19%|
|Protein||7g – 14%||7g – 14%||8g – 15%|
|Calcium||9mg – 1%||6mg – .5%||17mg – 1.5%|
|Iron||1.5mg – 8.5%||1.4mg – 8%||1.9mg – 10.5%|
|Potassium||209mg – 4%||120mg – 3%||251mg – 5%|
It’s a common misconception that gluten-free food is healthier, but whether it’s pasta, bread, pretzels or tortillas, the absence of gluten from foods does not inherently make the food more healthy. If you don’t need to eat gluten-free, there isn’t any reason related to nutrients or health benefits to eat gluten-free pasta.
If you are able to consume gluten and are looking for a more nutritional pasta, whole wheat pasta is a great option.