Whether you’re braving the polar vortex, battling a winter cold, or deep into a post-breakup Netflix binge, there’s one food that’s guaranteed to make you feel a whole lot warmer and fuzzier: noodles. Clearly, the ultimate comfort dish is good for our emotional health, as anyone who’s inhaled a steamy bowl of ramen on a sub-zero day can attest. But is it just as beneficial from a nutritional perspective?
With fingers firmly crossed, I checked in with dietician Brooke Alpert, RD, to find out. Lucky for all of us, she had good news. “Noodles and pasta can be a healthy choice, depending on what they are made out of,” the dietician told me. (Phew!) Here are the healthy noodles she loves the most:
1. Kelp noodles
Kelp noodles received top marks from Alpert, as they’re rich in key minerals. “Kelp noodles have calcium and magnesium and, unlike traditional white flour pasta, will not cause a huge spike in your blood sugar,” she explains. This gluten-free seaweed noodle (made from the powdered flesh of kelp) is often served raw, but it’s just as delish as a base for pad Thai and pho.
2. Shirataki noodles
Alpert’s also a fan of high-fiber, gluten-free shirataki noodles—another A+ option for homemade pad Thai—which are made from yam flour. (Tituss Burgess is another shirataki lover, although his go-to option is made with tofu and yam.)
3. Mung bean pasta
If you’re more into Italian-style noodles, Alpert recommends trying mung bean pasta, AKA glass noodles. “They have a similar texture to traditional white flour pasta, but are high in plant-based protein, iron, and zinc,” she says. (They’re also safe for those who can’t eat gluten.) This is an especially great choice when you’re feeling sick, as zinc can help boost the immune system.
What about other kinds of noodles, like ramen, udon, or Italian-style pasta?
Alas, wheat-based noodles may be delicious, but probably aren’t the best pick if you’re looking for a nutrient-dense dish, says Alpert. “Noodles made from refined white flour offer the least nutritional value compared to other varieties,” she explains. “They are high in calories, low in fiber, and do not have the additional nutrients that other alternatives offer.”
Rice noodles are a similar story, although they are gluten-free, whereas the others aren’t. Soba noodles, made from buckwheat, are slightly better—they offer more protein and fiber than their white flour counterparts, and they can be gluten-free (although they’re sometimes made with wheat flour, so check the package.)
Anything else I should know about making my noodle bowl a little bit healthier?
First, try not to go too crazy with your serving size, says Alpert. (A tough ask, I know.) “A portion size of your fist—which also includes any additional veggies or protein you add—is a good portion size for pasta,” she says. “If you are cooking at home, consider what the pasta looks like raw versus cooked. You need far less raw pasta than you might think!”
Also, consider the fact that what’s on your noodles is just as important as what’s in them. Alpert recommends making noodle soups with bone broth, as you’ll be getting all the skin-boosting benefits of collagen. If you’re opting for a stir-fry or pasta dish, she suggests loading it up with lean protein and veggies to make it a more complete meal. (Make sure you’re using healthy cooking oils, while you’re at it.)
That said, every so often a super-salty noodle dish from your local take-out spot is exactly what you need to feel nourished on a soul level. So if that’s the case, I personally say slurp away. Everything in moderation, right?
Chicken soup is a legit salve for when you’re sick—science says so. And if veggie noodles are more your speed, try this recipe for turmeric zoodles with cilantro tahini. (*Drool*)
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