A Comfort Food That’s Comfortingly Healthy


I’m not a frequent pasta eater, but I always have a stash of comforting penne or fussili on hand (which in my opinion is much more fun for your mouth than smooth shapes). One thing I’ve noticed about pasta is that the wheat used is not your regular wheat, but usually “durum wheat” or “semolina”. So how do those compare nutritionally to your basic garden variety wheat?

Durum is a tougher wheat than basic “bread wheat” so it stands up better to boiling. Semolina is the end result of milling durum wheat, meaning that durum and semolina are the same thing (though semolina is a slightly more refined version of pure durum wheat).

What’s key then to watch for, if you’re looking for a whole wheat pasta, is to be sure it says “100% whole wheat durum”.  If it simply says “100% durum wheat”, or “organic durum wheat”, it means the germ and the bran have been stripped out and it’s no more nutritious than your basic white flour.

Some of the nutrients removed when wheat’s refined are Vitamin E, calcium, iron and 15 others. Even if it is made from whole wheat, many of the larger commercial brands enrich their pasta with extra iron and various B vitamins such as folic acid.  I believe this is because since white flour pasta is heavily enriched, if consumers were to compare labels, the brand wants the whole wheat version to show at least the same level of nutrients, even if those nutrients were added later at higher levels than are naturally occurring.

So bottom line, be sure it says “100% whole durum wheat” if that’s what you’re going for, but don’t assume that it’s not whole wheat if there are added nutrients.

(I know this is totally irrational, but if I’m going to eat spaghetti, I want white flour pasta, but if it’s tubular or irregular shapes, then I usually generally go for whole-wheat.  Go figure …)

Best ways to enjoy pasta? A simple homemade ground beef-tomato-vegetable sauce is my favorite (link below), but in the event you don’t have that on hand,  another stand-by of mine is pasta with sausage and spinach.  I keep a supply of both frozen for emergencies, though if I’ve had time to grab fresh spinach there is no comparison. And parma cheese is essential as there are few foods that can’t be elevated to excellence with a light shaving from the Italian gods.

Here’s the recipe for Pasta with Spinach and Sausage.

Your pasta tips or favorites sauces or toppings to share?

Related Posts
Tomato Vegetable Pasta Sauce (The very best version of this classic!)
Spinach, Chickpeas and Sweet Potato (If you’re into spinach but want to forgo the pasta)

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  • Jacquelyn Hoag

    I use Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta and it is a great  substitute ….maybe for those who need or follow gluten free diet    There are lots of shapes.
    You didn’t say but I think reggiano parmesan cheese is far superior flavor wise. 

  • es4d

    olive oil, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms & goat cheese. maybe some basil if it’s around…maybe spinach.

  • Guest

    I have a favorite easy pasta anyone can make.  Here it is:
    sauteed mushrooms, kale or spinach sauteed, capers, chicken or sausage optional.  Add a splash of white wine (optional) and some beef or chicken broth,  Finally add some feta or ricotta cheese and about 2 tbsp of the warm pasta water to bind it all together.  Oh and how could I forget when it`s all sauteeing add about 1 or 2 tsp of tarragon (this makes it).  Add the pasta at the end, then the liquid and mix it all together.  Enjoy

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      yum! that just might be tomorrow nights dinner :)

  • Karen

    My rushed pasta lunch is usually whole wheat penne. While it boils, I sautee some garlic and onions along with tomatoes (I usually keep grape/cherry ones on-hand) until the tomatoes burst. Then I add some spinach and some lemon juice, nutmeg, and feta. I drain most of the liquid from the pasta, then add the remaining pasta water + pasta to the spinach-laden saute pan and stir until everything looks delicious. This is obviously hugely open to interpretation/adding bits from the fridge.

  • http://onceuponaloaf.com/ Cindy

    This looks delicious! I was just having a conversation about whole wheat and its quality with m mother-in-law today. I am also a white-flour spaghetti/whole-wheat-is-fine tubular or spiral gal. 😉

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      A friend of mine came forward the other day and revealed that she TOO will only eat white spaghetti but prefers whole-wheat tubular shapes! How many “bi” pasta eaters are out there that are waiting to be “outed”?!

  • http://www.vaguevegan.wordpress.com/ Lauren @ Vaguely Vegan

    Great post!  I always get so confused when I’m in the pasta aisle I usually give up and just make sure to get whole wheat something or other…now I’ll be sure it’s 100% whole durum wheat.  And I agree fussili is so fun, and I really like orechiette as well.

  • http://spinachtiger.com/ Angela

    I can handle dark breads, but for some reason, I cannot eat wholewheat pasta. But I could probably love your sausage and spinach dish (two of my favorite foods).
    I just figure if I crowd my white pasta with other good things, I’m okay. I’m not eating it for nutrition. I eat pasta for joy.  . I can understand you liking the whole wheat macaroni and still wanting white flour spaghetti. I lost weight in Italy eating pasta every day, so don’t you wonder what their real secret is.