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Is Orzo Healthy? Nutrition, Calories, Carbs
Nutrition

Is Orzo Healthy? Nutrition, Calories, Carbs

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 August 17
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5 min

Orzo is a popular small rice-shaped pasta used in many Mediterranean dishes. However, many wonder if this pasta has any nutritional benefits.

is orzo healthy

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Whether added into soups, made into pasta salad, or eaten like rice, orzo is a well-loved noodle. So naturally, you may wonder if it has any health benefits and if they outweigh the downsides.

Is there a way to add orzo to your healthy diet? Read on for more information about orzo! 

What Is Orzo Pasta? 

Orzo originates in Mediterranean cuisine. It is a tiny noodle commonly used similarly to rice in how it is used as a side or used when making light pasta dishes. 

Orzo resembles large grains of rice but is actually made of pasta. 

It comes as whole wheat flour or enriched flour variations, which can significantly change the nutritional composition.

Is Orzo Healthy?

Orzo pasta is a healthy grain that provides energy, B vitamins, fiber, and more. Whole grain orzo is the healthier pasta option. Additionally, pair with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and dairy to create a balanced meal.

What Are the Health Benefits of Orzo?

While the carbohydrate content is significant, orzo’s benefits outweigh the risks. So let’s talk about them!

#1 A significant source of protein

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food database, a serving of orzo (approximately 56 grams) contains seven grams of protein. 

Protein is essential for all chemical reactions that occur in the human body. Additionally, protein works to support muscle growth, maintenance, and more. 

As per the National Institutes of Health, protein from the diet cannot be stored easily in the body like carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, it must be consumed every day to replenish.

#2 Whole wheat is rich in fiber

As a grain, regular orzo pasta made from enriched flour is not high in fiber, with only about 1 gram per 100-gram serving. 

However, similar to brown rice, whole wheat orzo contains a whopping 16 grams of dietary fiber. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, women should consume 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams daily. 

Many know that consuming enough dietary fiber can promote a healthy digestive system and reduce constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. 

Additionally, fiber can promote healthy blood sugar levels, lower blood cholesterol, and help achieve a healthy weight status.

#3 Fortified with iron and B vitamins

While this depends on the brand and type of orzo pasta, many are enriched with vitamins and minerals to improve nutritional value and prevent nutritional deficiency.

For example, Barilla Orzo pasta is made from semolina flour. This type of orzo is often fortified with many vitamins and minerals added during processing.

Therefore, it is enriched with iron and B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, and folic acid.

Orzo vs. Pasta 

Although orzo is shaped like rice, it is actually very similar to regular pasta. Orzo simply refers to the shape, though the nutritional composition of orzo versus regular pasta is very similar.

Similarly, orzo and regular pasta have white or enriched whole grain flour varieties.

Unlike cooked brown rice or cooked white basmati rice, orzo delivers a healthier pasta option, though shaped like rice.

Nutritional Facts

From carbohydrates to fat and calories, let’s dive into the nutritional information for orzo pasta. 

Nutritional table (per 100g) 

Calories/Nutrient (per 100g)Amount 
Calories (kcal)375
Sodium (mg)0
Net Carbs (g)78.6
Fiber (g)3.6
Sugar (g)3.57
Fats (Total)1.79
Protein (g)12.5
Glycemic index (GI)50

Source: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2062951/nutrients 

High in carbohydrates

A 100-gram serving of orzo pasta contains a whopping 78 grams of carbohydrates. While this seems like a lot, 100 grams is almost two servings of pasta.

Additionally, carbohydrates are not necessarily as bad as they are made out to be, especially when they are rich in dietary fiber, such as whole wheat orzo or any other whole wheat pasta. 

Carbohydrates are the body’s first energy source and are essential for proper functioning, including brain and cognitive functioning. 

However, consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates not used for energy is stored as fat and can contribute to obesity.

Therefore, stick with a serving or two when eating orzo pasta to avoid consuming excessive carbs.

Low in fats 

Orzo pasta has less than a gram of fat per 56-gram serving. Therefore, it can be an excellent starch option for weight loss or maintenance. 

However, pair your orzo pasta with a healthy fat to increase feelings of fullness and satiety. For example, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil or a few slices of avocado to provide some monounsaturated fatty acids.

Low in calories 

A 100-gram serving of orzo pasta contains 375 calories. Keep in mind that this is a bit under two servings.

Therefore, if you consume a 56-gram serving of pasta, you would consume closer to 190 calories. 

Especially as a side dish rather than an entree, orzo is an excellent source of energy and substance to a meal.

Low glycemic index 

The glycemic index measures how quickly a portion of food or beverage causes blood sugar levels to rise or spike. 

Especially for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance, it is essential to consume low glycemic index foods to prevent blood sugar spikes. 

Pasta in general, including orzo pasta, has a glycemic index of 50 and is, therefore, a low glycemic index food. However, this number can vary explicitly based on the type of pasta and how it is cooked and prepared. 

Fiber, protein, and fat generally decrease the glycemic index because they cause carbohydrates and sugars to be digested and absorbed more slowly. Pasta such as orzo contains protein and a bit of fiber (more if it is whole grain) which likely contributes to its low glycemic index.

FAQs

How many calories are in orzo?

A 100-gram serving of orzo pasta contains 375 calories. Therefore, a serving of orzo is approximately 56 grams.

How many carbs are in orzo?

There are 78.6 grams of carbohydrates.

Is orzo pasta whole grain?

Since orzo pasta is typically made from semolina flour, it is not classified as a whole grain. However, there are whole grain varieties that you can find at certain grocery stores.

Is orzo high in carbs?

Yes, orzo pasta is high in carbohydrates, over 75 grams per 100 grams.

A Word From a Nutritionist

Orzo pasta can be a part of a healthy diet. Opt for a whole grain orzo pasta variety to get the most nutrition, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

However, due to the fortification and enrichment process, 

Pair your pasta with healthy fat, such as olive oil, and a lean protein source to increase satiety and fullness from your meal.

Additionally, ensure you consume appropriate portions of orzo pasta or any pasta or starch. The serving size is approximately 56 grams or about 3/4 of a cup of cooked orzo.

To avoid consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates that can be stored as fat, have just a serving or two of orzo pasta.

Conclusion

Orzo pasta is a nutritious rice-like small pasta rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. It is also a great source of energy from carbohydrates. 

Orzo pasta is traditionally made from durum wheat semolina flour, which is not a whole grain. This type of orzo pasta is often fortified with B vitamins and iron to increase nutrition and prevent deficiency in the diet. 

However, orzo pasta made from whole grain flour contains even more nutrition, including significant amounts of fiber and some calcium.

Orzo pasta also has a low glycemic index and therefore does not cause quick rises in blood sugar levels. 

Enjoy your orzo pasta with nutritious fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and dairy for a balanced meal.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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