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What's Better: Pasta vs. Macaroni vs. Elbow Pasta vs. Penne?

What's Better: Pasta vs. Macaroni vs. Elbow Pasta vs. Penne?

Posted on: Pasta

By Lucy Yanckello, Ph.D.

Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen subscription box for sourdough breads, fresh pastas, and artisanal pastries. 


In the grocery store, a trip down the pasta aisle seems to present one with endless options of shapes, styles, and sizes of pasta. Choosing between these options can be overwhelming, but this article will give you helpful information to help you decide which shape works best for your recipe or nutritional needs.

Is macaroni and pasta the same thing? Is macaroni a type of pasta? Is elbow pasta the same as macaroni?

Macaroni is a type of pasta. The word macaroni is used to describe and categorize small and medium-sized dried pasta shapes. In the United States, macaroni has become synonymous with a shape of pasta referred to as an elbow. This elbow pasta shape is most commonly used for macaroni (mac) and cheese, but is also used in pasta salads and soups.

What’s the difference between penne vs. macaroni? Can I substitute macaroni for penne, or substitute penne for macaroni?

Penne is literally translated as “quills'' or “feathers,” and is categorized as part of the macaroni family of pasta. Penne pasta is tubular and has small ridges which help sauce cling to the surface of the penne. Pastas from the macaroni family can be used interchangeably in any dish calling for shaped or tubular pasta - so yes, penne and other macaroni pastas can be substituted in any recipe.

What is the difference between pasta vs. macaroni vs. elbow pasta vs. penne?

Pasta is a term used to describe a wide variety of noodle shapes and sizes, with categories including small (ex. farfalle, rotini), ribbon-cut (ex. tonnarelli, fettuccine), macaroni (ex. rigatoni, penne), and stuffed (ex. ravioli, tortellini). Macaroni is a category of pasta, typically referring to small to medium-sized pasta shapes.

Elbow pasta and penne both fall under the macaroni category of pasta. Penne pasta is a ridged, straight, tube-shaped pasta, whereas elbow pasta is a smooth, curved, tubed-shaped pasta. Both penne and elbow pasta are great for saucy dishes. The ridges on penne pasta helps sauce stick to the surface of the pasta and elbow pasta tends to interlock when cooked so the sauce clings to these noodles, as well.   

What is the health difference between elbow pasta vs. macaroni vs. pasta vs. penne, e.g. for calories and carbs?

Macaroni is a category of pasta that both elbow and penne fall under. Penne and elbow pasta both have similar nutritional profiles. For 2 ounces of uncooked penne, which results in 1 cup cooked penne, there are 200 calories consisting of  42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. In 1 cup of cooked elbow-shaped pasta (2 ounces uncooked) there are 221 calories consisting of 43 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein.

Which is healthier: macaroni or pasta? Can you still eat pasta and macaroni when trying to lose weight?

The macaroni category of pasta, which includes penne and elbow shapes, has a similar nutritional profile to other categories of pasta. For example, a cup of cooked spaghetti has 221 calories consisting of 43 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein – the same as a cup of cooked elbow-shaped pasta. Pasta can certainly be part of a healthy diet when trying to lose weight. Although it is mostly carbohydrates, there is still a moderate amount of protein content and some fiber, which will aid in satiety – an important component of food consumed during weight loss. To aid in weight loss, make sure to eat pasta in moderation and consider adding additional protein to your pasta or trying whole grain pasta instead.

Where can I buy fresh pasta online?

At Wildgrain, we specialize in making high-quality, fresh pastas that are delivered directly to your door. Wildgrain is the first bake-from-frozen delivery subscription service for breads, pastries, and fresh pastas. Some of our popular pastas include fresh fettuccine and fresh tonnarelli. Learn more about Wildgrain and our artisanal baking and cooking methods.


About the Author

Lucy Yanckello received her Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. She currently works as a medical writer and enjoys being able to help people better understand nutrition and science.


This content is for informational use only and does not replace professional nutrition and/or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not a substitute for and should not be relied upon for specific nutrition and/or medical recommendations. Please talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns.