Pasta Substitutes For People With Diabetes | Healthy Low-Carb Alternatives
Pasta is tasty, affordable, and readily available. As such, it is an important source of carbohydrates for many people. Pasta can even be seen as a crucial ingredient in some of our favorite comfort foods. After all, what would we do without macaroni and cheese?
Unfortunately, pasta can also cause a spike in blood sugar, so people with diabetes need to be especially careful when eating it, and should prioritize healthier options.
This article will detail just-as-tasty alternatives to pasta, as well as diabetes-friendly recipes you need to add to your repertoire. All recipes come from the Diabetes Food Hub, a resource put together by the American Diabetes Association.
What’s Wrong With Pasta?
Pasta is full of carbohydrates, which is why it is a great source of energy, and why many athletes use it to recover after a vigorous workout. 100% of the carbohydrates you eat are converted into glucose, which is then used to power your brain, muscle cells, and so much more. Basically, we need carbohydrates to live a healthy, active life, and pasta is one of the most popular sources of carbohydrates.
Pasta gets us into trouble in two spots, however. For one, pasta is a starchy carbohydrate, meaning it is digested quickly and can affect your blood sugar as early as one hour after eating. The rapid effect pasta can have on blood glucose levels makes managing diabetes and maintaining stable, healthy blood sugar levels more difficult.
Also, we tend to eat servings of pasta that are much larger than the recommended serving size of ½ cup. The average plate of pasta is made from about 2 cups of pasta, or four times the serving size. So while pasta actually has a relatively low glycemic index value (which indicates its effect on blood sugar), it has a high glycemic load (which takes into account serving size). Eating too much carbs, in addition to making glucose harder to control, can promote weight gain and increase inflammation.
If you start to look at pasta as a side dish, rather than a main dish, you can afford to keep it in your diet. Pasta by itself is low in sodium and unhealthy (saturated and trans) fats, and, as stated earlier, it is a great source of fuel. By cooking pasta with vegetables and low-fat low-sodium sauces, paired with eating it in moderation, your blood sugar will be unlikely to experience a spike. Overcooked pasta has a higher glycemic index than al dente pasta, so make sure to only cook pasta until it is just cooked (follow the directions on the box).
There are also widely available pastas that are made from healthier alternatives to white flour. Whole wheat pasta has three times the amount of fiber as traditional pasta, which improves digestion and glucose control. Gluten-free pasta is typically made from ingredients like lentils or quinoa, which are rich in fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients. Some fortified pastas use a blend of white flour and flour made from barley or flaxseed to boost nutrient content without sacrificing texture.
Here are three tasty, diabetes friendly pasta recipes, each using creative substitutes for white pasta.
Chickpea Pasta And Vegetables
Chickpea pasta is gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. You can find it in most grocery stores or online. For a full list of ingredients and more detailed instructions, view the recipe here.
As you boil salted water in a medium pot, prepare the mushrooms, peppers, shallots, and garlic. Once the water is boiled, add the chickpea pasta and follow the directions on the box to cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and retain 1 cup of the cooking water for later.
In a separate pan, cook the vegetables in 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Later, add in the tomato paste, chili paste, water, and, lastly, spinach. Combine the sauce, half of the reserved cooking water, and the cooked pasta in the medium pot. Cook until the pasta is coated, then stir in the mascarpone and serve with salt and pepper.
Cauliflower Mac And Cheese
This recipe uses the increasingly popular cauliflower in place of pasta. If desired, you can also add lobster.
Microwave cauliflower with water until tender–about 12 minutes–then drain. In a saucepan, combine olive oil, flour, milk, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and hot sauce, and bring the sauce to a boil. After simmering the sauce, mix in the reduced-fat colby jack cheese and fat-free cream cheese until both are melted.
Break the warm cauliflower until bite-size pieces and lay them out on a greased baking dish. Cover with sauce and panko bread crumbs, then spray the top with cooking spray. Bake the dish for 30 minutes at 350 ℉.
Instead of using starchy, high-carb noodles to build the layers of your lasagna, try vegetables! This recipe uses zucchini, but eggplant slices will work as well.
Layer one: Add olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and basil to a shallow skillet and cook on low until the sauce is nice and thick.
Layer two: Bake the zucchini slices until browned and then remove any excess moisture
Layer three: Blend tofu, parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, and garlic in a food processor, then combine with ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, egg, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
Finally, alternate evenly between the three different components to build as many layers as desired in a baking pan. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for around 50 minutes at 400℉.
Low-Carb Pasta Alternatives
If you are trying to limit your pasta consumption but need some help thinking of healthy replacements, look no further! The following foods are all rich in nutrients, bursting with flavor, and are excellent additions to any diabetes diet.
Ancient grains, such as quinoa, farro, freekeh, and sorghum, have been eaten for centuries. They contain high amounts of fiber, protein, essential nutrients, and even antioxidants, while still being an excellent source of carbohydrates and energy. While you may not be used to cooking with them, they are all readily available, relatively affordable, and generally easy to make.
These two recipes below are a great example of how versatile these grains can be. Whether you add ancient grains to soups or salads, side dishes or breakfast bowls, they are sure to be full of nutrients and flavor. For added taste, cook these whole grains in animal or vegetable stock.
Once chilled, ancient grains can make a great base for a delicious salad. This Grilled Seafood and Quinoa Salad is a perfectly-balanced source of all the nutrients you need from a meal. Between the seafood, quinoa, black beans, mango, and avocado, this dish will leave you feeling energized, and refreshed.
Ancient grains also work well in soups. Try this Farmhouse Vegetable and Farro Soup, which mixes protein-rich farro and cannellini beans with antioxidant-rich vegetables, like onions, carrots, and tomatoes.
Beans ranked number one in the American Diabetes Association’s list of diabetes superfoods, and they really do seem to have it all: protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, folate, potassium, calcium. Beans promote fullness, so you are less likely to overeat or experience cravings shortly afterwards. They are also cheap, simple to make, and easy to incorporate into your diet.
If you are looking for an addictively-delicious, protein-rich appetizer, these Black Bean and Mango Salsa Lettuce Wraps are full of fiber and take only 10 minutes to prepare. Beans also make a great burger, so skip the unhealthy red meat and try this Basic Bean Burger featuring quinoa instead!
Spaghetti squash is a perfect pasta alternative to use in your favorite spaghetti dish. Try, for example, this Spaghetti Squash Primavera, which will help you meet your daily protein and veggie needs in a healthy and delicious way.
Spaghetti squash manages to maintain a similar texture to its pasta counterpart, along with a slightly sweet taste and perfect texture that pairs nicely with tomato sauce and other vegetables. Spaghetti squash, being a vegetable, is also rich in fiber and other essential nutrients, and aids glucose control.
Spaghetti squash is not the only vegetable that can be used as an alternative to pasta — all non-starchy vegetables contain high amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. According to the American Diabetes Association, every diabetes-friendly meal should hold about 50% vegetables, 25% carbohydrates, and 25% protein. So by eating a greater percentage of vegetables in place of carbohydrates, you can manage your diabetes better and get more nutrients from your food.
The great thing about vegetables is that they can be cooked in so many different ways and still taste great. Consider grilling them and adding them to a tortilla with some hummus for this filling Grilled Veggie Wrap. Otherwise, you cannot go wrong with Roasted Vegetables. Choose your favorites and add garlic and other seasoning for an irresistible result.
Pasta is a great source of energy and can be healthy in moderation, but we tend to eat servings of pasta that are too large and are thus more likely to cause a spike in blood sugar when it really doesn’t have to. As such, people with diabetes need to be careful with their pasta consumption, and choose other foods that make it easier to maintain stable blood glucose levels.
There are many excellent, low-carb alternatives to pasta, such as beans, spaghetti squash, quinoa, and non-starchy vegetables. You can also use whole grain and/or gluten-free pasta varieties to make your favorite pasta recipes.