Wholemeal pasta has become increasingly popular in Italy in recent years, both for its more intense flavour and for health reasons. But how much is this enthusiasm really founded and how much has it been influenced by trends or simply by the need to vary flavours in our dishes compared to the past? We spoke with diabetes and food science specialist and Michele Pizzinini.
Sgambaro wholemeal pasta is made with hulled durum wheat – that is to say, like an onion, the husk, richer in cellulose and more sensitive to contamination, is removed and the inner fibre, more delicate and easier to digest, is retained. The hulling process should not be frowned upon, as it sometimes happens, because the seed and bran are separated with an absolutely innocent mechanical process by passing them through special rollers.
In wholemeal flour, the grain is milled with all its components – bran, endosperm and germ endosperm – so it fully preserves its nutritional properties. It’s worth noting the presence of vitamin E, a key antioxidant, and of phytoestrogens, which help you keep a healthy heart and bones. The calories of the various types of flour are more or less the same, though the higher fibre content of wholemeal pasta compared to white pasta guarantees slower bowel movements, a reduced glycaemic increase after your main meals and helps you feel fuller for longer.
However, also non-wholemeal durum wheat pasta, provided they are high quality products, are excellent from a nutritional point of view: they guarantee the intake of slow-absorption complex carbohydrates, a fairly good amount of fibre and have a rather low glycaemic index. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that pasta raises the glycaemic index – i.e. the ability to increase glycaemia – by less than half compared to glazed rice.
The starch in grains is nothing but long chains of glucose – the sugar in the blood – that with digestion are broken down into single molecules and can thereby be absorbed by intestinal cells, which transfer it to the blood. The presence of fibre in the gut prevents fast contact between cells and glucose molecules, as the fibre acts as a filter, a sort of barrier that takes the starch along the digestive tract, slowing down its absorption. This is why in wholemeal pasta, rich in fibre, the absorption of carbohydrates is slower, glucose molecules are absorbed gradually and the body can use them as they circulate. The gradual entry of carbohydrates into the blood stream also prevents insulin peaks, which are harmful even for those who do not suffer from diabetes. Insulin is indeed the hormone of ‘abundance’: when the carbohydrates taken in are not consumed, the remaining ones are directed towards the production of fat, as they cannot stay in the blood stream for long. This is why wholemeal pasta is a valid food also in weight control diets.
It’s worth remembering that wholemeal pasta alone cannot meet the needs of our body: fruit and vegetables are always essential complements to ensure that our daily intake in fibre, polyphenols, vitamins and mineral salts is covered in an optimal way.
Moreover, insoluble fibre must be taken in the right amounts (about 25/30 grams per day for an adult) or it may favour intestinal fermentation. For instance, for many elderly people or those suffering from IBS an excess in fibre is something to be absolutely avoided.
Hulled durum whole wheat spaghetti by Sgambaro cooked by Elena Agnoletto – recipe available on Facebook @Elena Agnoletto Health Care Tutor (Photo by Giglio Be Photography)
In short, there is always one golden rule to follow: combine various foods in a clever way with plenty of variety in your diet, so as to satisfy the palate and provide our body with everything it needs to work as best as possible. So eating pasta every day is an excellent thing to do, preferably for lunch to guarantee a constant intake of energy in the afternoon and avoid being too hungry at dinnertime. You can alternate traditional durum what semolina pasta with wholemeal pasta. The other types of pasta offered by Sgambaro, made with emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, khorasan wheat or with a mix of spelt, lentils and quinoa flour – all great, highly digestible ingredients – are also excellent alternatives.