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Not long ago the biggest decision you needed to make when it came to pasta night was whole wheat or white—and maybe what shape of noodle you wanted. But now the pasta isolate has ballooned with options made with ingredients ranging from chickpeas to cassava to sweet potato. You could serve pasta every night for weeks and seemingly not try out all the varieties on the market, all of which claim to hold a nutritional advantage over traditional spaghetti. And now, joining the flood of alt-pasta comes a new plant-based blend: hearts of palm.
Hearts of palm pasta, which has garnered love in the line-up of Trader Joe’s specialty products, are plant-based strands that are grain-free and keto-approved veggie noodles. People praise these veggie-based noodles for not sacrificing taste or texture, compared to other options, like zucchini or even traditional pasta.
Undeniably, these unusual noodles cater well to many of today’s different dietary needs and wishes. So if you’re wondering if hearts of palm pasta is worthy of your next carbo load, here’s how the trendy noodles stack up to other varieties.
What exactly is hearts of palm paste?
Hearts of palm comes from the center (aka “heart”) of a certain type of palm tree native to Central and South America. It looks similar to white asparagus, but with a more subtle flavor similar to that of an artichoke heart. It’s long and cylindrical, and often sold canned or jarred.
To make pasta from hearts of palm, the hearts are cut into linguini-shaped pieces after which they are packaged in cans or plastic pouches. Texture-wise, the hearts of palm “noodles” are firm and fibrous—a bit crunchy when uncooked, and typically al dente in texture when cooked. They also have a hue that is similar to regular noodles.
What are the nutrition facts for hearts of palm pasta versus other types of pasta?
A 100g-serving of hearts of palm noodles has:
The same serving size of whole wheat cooked pasta has:
And this is what is in the same amount of chickpea paste:
Is hearts of palm pasta a good choice for cyclists?
Hearts of palm is a suitable pasta substitute for people eating a keto or gluten-free diet, because they’re super low in carbs and free of wheat gluten. But Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition and author of Essential Sports Nutrition, says this stingy carb content can backfire on cyclists. “The low carb content does not fare well for those looking to fuel off their pasta,” she says. Regular pasta noodles are a great option for cyclists because they are carb-dense and easy to consume, Sumbal says.
According to findings in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, athletes who consume enough calories but don’t eat enough carbohydrates are still at risk for poor immune and stress responses to exercise. This is yet another reason why cyclists should not restrict carbohydrate intake. “If you’re concerned about both your health and performance, make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrates to fuel your training,” notes Sumbal.
If you’re making sure to still get plenty of carbs in your diet from other foods to meet your needs, then it’s fine to slurp up hearts of palm noodles.
Hearts of palm pasta is also very low in calories because they are mostly water and don’t contain the starchy carbs of regular noodles or the extra protein calories found in legume-based options. This can help bulk up meals at a lower calorie count. This also might be desirable for individuals who need to trim some of the calories from their diet to help spur weight loss.
One caveat, though: Swapping out higher calorie pasta for these veggie noodles can result in cyclists coming up short in the total energy they need. A recent report in the journal Sports Medicine found that daily caloric deficits created when athlete’s diets do not meet the energy requirements of training can be a primary driver of overtraining syndrome (and a similar pathway leads to RED-S), which can hinder performance gains and contribute to a host of health concerns , like poor bone strength and concerning alterations in hormones.
Many athletes underestimate how many carbs and calories are needed to support high volume training, Sumbal tells Runner’s World. She stresses making this noodle switch is risky if a cyclist is not making sure to still eat a sufficient number of calories.
Often, you’ll hear that these plant-based noodles are packed with fiber. But you get less of this filling nutrient in hearts of palm pasta than you’ll get from a bowl of whole wheat spaghetti or chickpea pasta. Fiber can help to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar, and promote a healthy gut.
If you bulk up a sauce for hearts of palm pasta with plenty of veggies that would increase fiber numbers to help you get what you need. Sumbal does suggest that this lower fiber number can be beneficial if you’re consuming the noodles before a ride, when you want easy-to-digest foods.
Compared to wheat-based pasta and definitely when stacked up against legume-based versions including chickpea, hearts of palm noodles are a lightweight protein. Protein is one of the most important dietary tools to leverage for not just satiating your hunger, but it protects your lean muscle mass and makes it easier to build up more. This is important to performing better and aging well.
Sumbal stresses that cyclists require more protein than those who are sedentary, considering the macronutrient is needed for tissue repair, injury prevention, and immune system support.
Researchers from the University of Toronto concluded that on training days, endurance athletes should aim to consume 1.6 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This is enough to make up for any protein that is burned up for energy needs during exercise and, more importantly, to support the repair and growth of muscular tissue, a key aspect in helping you cycle faster and injury-free. To meet recommendations of consuming around 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, Sumbal advises adding a quality source of protein to hearts of palm pasta. This could be ground beef or tempeh crumbles mixed into the sauce.
Certainly, using these noodles can be a method of incorporating more veggies into your diet. This is important, considering that only about 10% of American adults meet the federal vegetable recommendations of two to three cups daily. Plus, because hearts of palm is a vegetable, it contains a range of important micronutrients including potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and manganese. But overall, the levels of nutrients are less than that found in many other vegetables like bell peppers, spinach, and even sweet potato noodles. So it’s smart to boost the nutrient profile of hearts of palm pasta with colorful vegetables for added vitamins and minerals, Sumbal advises.
In some cases, hearts of palm will be the only ingredient in the pasta, but there can be varying amounts of other ingredients too, like salt. If you’re trying to cut down on sodium—say, if you have high blood pressure—you may want to seek out brands that make their noodles with no added salt, especially if serving with a salt-containing sauce. You can also rinse the noodles before preparing to remove some of the sodium.
On the other hand, a bit of added sodium can be of benefit to hard-charging cyclists. Considering that cyclists lose sodium and fluids when sweating, adding salt to food can be beneficial to help with hydration status, says Sumbal.
How to Add Hearts of Palm Pasta to Your Meals
Hearts of palm pasta is very neutral-tasting and doesn’t take long to cook, making them versatile and a good choice for midweek meals. Dress them up as you would regular pasta noodles, topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Or you can toss with stir-fried vegetables and meat. Hearts of palm pasta also works in noodle-based dishes like pad Thai, or in pasta salad recipes, or added to soups. Eaten raw, they can add a refreshing bite to green salads. As Sumbal says, just don’t forget to also bring the carbs and protein to the meal.
The Bottom Line on Hearts of Palm Pasta
There is nothing wrong with using hearts of palm pasta to add variety to your diet and it can be fun to try out new foods. They are part of the trend of giving people with varying dietary requirements, like gluten-free, more options than ever. But for cyclists who have heightened nutrition needs, there is no need to give up their favorite prerace traditional spaghetti or even chickpea rotini for these veggie noodles that struggle to stack up to the nutrients of other pasta options out there.
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