Best whole-grain and added-nutrient pastas

Our trained tasters sampled 13 spaghettis

Consumer Reports magazine: October 2012

Standard-issue semolina pasta, low in fat and sodium, isn't exactly an evil food, but that doesn't stop manufacturers from trying to make it better. One way: boost pasta's fiber, either by using whole grain or by adding fiber sources such as oats, inulin, or legume flour blend. Another way: add nutrients such as calcium, folic acid, iron, thiamine, or omega-3s. A recent survey by the Food Marketing Institute found that the proportion of consumers who reported they were buying more foods with "plus" claims was up 32 percent compared with a year earlier. Our trained tasters sampled 13 such good-for-you spaghettis, sans sauce.

Taste. Among whole-grain pastas, the two Very Good choices are store brands. (Read more about store brands.) Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are sweet and nutty, with a chewy texture. (That's a good thing.) Other choices lost points for, among other issues, crumbly texture and cardboardy flavor. Lowest-rated Hodgson Mill is not only crumbly but pasty and very bitter.

Two of the Very Good added-nutrient spaghettis, Dreamfields and Ronzoni Smart Taste, are much like regular pasta, but the third, Ronzoni Garden Delight, has a carrot flavor, despite a website claim that its carrot, tomato, and spinach ingredients "cleverly hide" in the pasta.

Our trained tasters tried the lower-rated brands with tomato sauce to see whether it masked their faults. It didn't.

Nutrition. Most of the spaghettis earned a nutrition score of Very Good or Good, based on calories per gram, fats, sodium, sugars, iron, calcium, and fiber. Almost all have more fiber than regular spaghetti—5 or 6 grams per 1-cup serving (cooked), vs. about 2 grams. (The recommended daily value for fiber is about 25 grams for a person eating 2,000 calories per day.) Just keep in mind that 1 cup of pasta isn't much. Scarf down the contents of a big bowl, and you'll consume far more calories than advertised.

Bottom line. The five recommended spaghettis taste very good, and most provide 5 grams of fiber. No pasta is pricey, but whole-wheat and added-nutrient types tend to cost a bit more than the regular type. Among the recommended products, Trader Joe's is the least expensive, at 17 cents per serving—less than half the cost of Dreamfields. Try any pasta with our top-rated tomato sauce, Giada De Laurentiis (Target). And if you're cooking for a crowd, note that many products no longer come in a 1-pound package. Sizes ranged from 12 ounces to 17.5 ounces.

The grain game

Whole grain contains 100 percent of the original kernel—bran, germ, and innermost part (endosperm). Whole wheat is just one type of whole grain, which could instead be oatmeal, millet, or brown rice, for starters. For all the grains you eat in a day, according to Department of Agriculture guidelines, half should be whole. Eating whole grains regularly may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. To find whole-grain products, look for  "whole grain" as one of the first ingredients.

Multigrain simply means that a food contains more than one type of grain—and not necessarily whole.

Refined grains contain only the kernel's innermost part.

Fortified products contain added nutrients that weren't in the original product.

Enriched products have had some of the original nutrients lost during processing added back in.

Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the October 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Pasta With a Side of Fiber."

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