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6 Healthy Pastas

Store shelves are brimming with a growing assortment of alternative pastas, many of them made from whole grains. Reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes -- and maintain a healthy weight -- by adding these more nutritious options to your diet. We sifted through the offerings and found six pastas that deliver both nutrition and great flavor.

Tip: When cooking any of these pastas, check the pot five minutes before the directions suggest. Most don't have the same type and amount of gluten as regular pasta, so they can get mushy if overcooked.

Whole-Wheat
What
A bastion of the health-food movement, pasta made from whole grains of durum wheat has improved greatly in taste and texture in recent years.

Why
The bran and germ in whole-wheat pasta contain antioxidants that combat heart disease and cancer. Several brands include flax, which contributes heart-healthy omega-3 fats and can boost the fiber quotient.

How
Strong flavors complement this robust and dense pasta. Toss whole-wheat shells with olive oil, broccoli rabe, sausage, garlic, and red-pepper flakes.

Rice
What
These noodles rely on starch rather than gluten to hold them together. Although the main ingredient is usually refined white rice, you can now find -- and should look for -- the more nutritious brown-rice noodles.

Why
Brown-rice pasta has a modest protein content, but because it contains lysine (an essential amino acid), it's high-quality protein.

How
With its springy consistency and neutral flavor, rice pasta works well in cold salads. Toss with a mixed-herb pesto.

Soba
What
"Soba" is Japanese for buckwheat. Making noodles solely from buckwheat is difficult, so it's often paired with wheat; check the ingredients if you're allergic to gluten.

Why
Buckwheat offers good-quality protein. It also has rutin, known for protecting capillaries, and bone-building phosphorus.

How
Soba noodles have a distinct earthy flavor and slightly grainy texture. Serve in a soup with ginger, scallions, and spinach.

Spelt
What
An ancient cereal grain, spelt is more nutritious than wheat, although less widely produced (its hard hulls are expensive to mill).

Why
A good source of thiamin and niacin, spelt pasta has more than twice the fiber of regular wheat pasta.

How
Hearty, firm, and slightly nutty-tasting, spelt noodles stand up to rich cheeses. Layer spelt lasagna with sauteed Swiss chard, a light cream sauce, and Gruyere.

Corn
What
Also known as maize, this grass native to the Americas is often blended with another grain, such as rice or quinoa, to make pasta.

Why
People with celiac disease or wheat allergies can eat corn pasta, which is gluten-free. It gets its golden color from the eye-protecting carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.

How
Corn pasta is best paired with fresh flavors that won't overwhelm its delicate texture. Blend with tomato sauce, corn, cilantro, and queso fresco, a mild soft cheese.

Kamut
What
Pronounced ku-moot, Kamut is the trademark name for a type of wheat reportedly discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb during the 1940s and then planted in the Midwest.

Why
Kamut pasta leads the whole-grain pack for protein content at 10 grams per 2-ounce serving. It also contains healthy amounts of antioxidants vitamin E and selenium.

How
It's firm and slightly sweet, so it nicely offsets tender, savory vegetables. Try Kamut spirals with asparagus spears and a wild mushroom sauce.

See our photo gallery of Healthy Pasta Dishes

Text by Cheryl Redmond; photograph by James Baigrie

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