Chances are if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve been told to cut out most carbs, especially those coming from sugar, rice, potatoes and pasta. It’s a pretty well known fact that too many carbohydrates stalls weight, and often packs on the pounds. But what if that’s only part of the story?
Pasta gets a bad rap because it’s filled with carbohydrates. Popular diets like The Zone, Atkins and Keto recommend severely reducing, or nearly eliminating, carbs in order to burn excess sugars in the body and tap into body fat, instead of sugar, for fuel. Scientifically, this makes a lot of sense. And it works! However, it also means you’ll never twirl another tomato drenched fork full of spaghetti ever again.
But what makes it Inherently Bad?
Most people assume the Glycemic Load of pasta is through the roof. But that’s not the whole story. (Be sure to read our blog on Sugar, Glycemic Load & Glycemic Index). But basically, the lower GI foods you eat, and the less GL you put on your system, the better. Higher levels increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, dementia and more.
Do These Yummy Noodles Have a High GI?
Actually, no! A low GI food contains a value of 55 or less. Guess what? Pasta clocks in at around 44! But…there’s a catch. You see, it all comes down to portion size. We live in a Cheesecake Factory world where portions are upwards of four times the recommended serving size. A true portion of pasta is 1/2 cup cooked, (about the size of one cupped hand). Most restaurants serve two cups of pasta! In fact, you’d probably protest or complain if a restaurant served you the correct portion size! The Glycemic Load (which accounts for both the Glycemic Index and carbohydrate portion) is only seven for a 1/2 cup portion. Anything under 10 is considered low! But at two cups of pasta, that number skyrockets to 26! For reference, anything over 20 is considered high.
Glycemic Load of a Food is Classified as Low, Medium, or High:
- Low: 10 or less
- Medium: 11 – 19
- High: 20 or more
Again, you want to aim for items with a lower Glycemic Load rating. So, can you eat pasta? Yes, if you want. But, the portion size is everything!
Now, just because the GIycemic Index on a servings of pasta says 44 doesn’t mean it is good for YOUR body. Individual factors like your tolerance for grains, how insulin resistant you are, how much you exercise and if pasta is inflammatory for YOU, play a big part in whether or not you can, or should, eat it. Most pastas tend to be stripped of most nutritional value. And on the quality food scale, it ranks pretty low. Unless your grandma is making it from scratch in Italy, or maybe even New York, chances are it’s not a high quality food.
Assuming you Tolerate it, Eat Pasta this Way
Go for the highest quality possible. If it’s on sale for 99 cents, check the label and look over all the ingredients. Many manufacturers are adding soy to their brands. This, ostensibly, raises the nutritional value, increases the protein, and thus, lowers the Glycemic Load (1). But maybe soy isn’t good for you? Only you know for sure. So make that informed decision. When you pair protein, like shrimp or chicken with your pasta, and include some extra-virgin olive oil, you also decrease that Glycemic Load. Keep your portion size to one cup or less, and do pair it with low carb sauce, a little oil and some protein.
If you + grains = bad news, you’re still in luck! Several companies created bean-based pastas that taste just like the real thing. From chickpea to red lentil pasta, it comes in the same fun shapes with a very similar texture. Often, these varieties pack in tons of fiber (which helps the GL) and a good amount of protein (something regular pasta lacks).
Alternative Pasta Options
- Soy Pasta: This organic brand is organic and features just one simple ingredient: soy. Make sure you tolerate soy well before indulging. It’s high in protein and fiber.
- Chickpea Pasta. This brand taste delicious and boasts some pretty good macros. At 23g of protein per serving (vs 13 in regular pasta) and a whopping 8g of fiber, it has a low GL.
- Black Bean Pasta. With only 19 carbs and 11 grams of fiber, you can actually double the 2oz serving size up to 4oz and still clock in fewer carbs than regular white pasta. They also make mung bean, lentil and rice pastas too.
- Super Food Pasta. Cybele’s incorporates super foods like kale, cauliflower and beets into their bean-based pastas. We especially like this option for kids, and kids love the fun colors.
- Shirataki Noodles. Ok- these won’t ever pass as pasta. However, we love them for ultra-low carb days. Generally, they perform better with Asian fare.
- Quinoa Pasta. The macros in this don’t clock in much better than plain pasta, however, if you can’t eat gluten, it’s a fine option. Now, if you’re sensitive to corn: beware. Some brands contain corn flour.
Like most things, serving size matters. A bite of cake won’t ruin your diet. But half the cake might. If you love pasta, don’t shun it just because the “keto for life” people claim it’ll kill ya (or make you fat). Because that’s just untrue. We believe in balance. So, pair your regular pasta with some protein and a little healthy fat. Experiment with different types, too. And more than anything, make INFORMED choices based on how foods make you feel. If pasta bloats you but you love it and are willing to pay the price, go for it (just stick to a real serving size). However, if you know pasta hurts your stomach and leaves you tired and achy the next day, decide if it’s really worth it. Become a conscious eater and watch what happens to your life, and your body!
The 131 Method has new phases coming out soon! If you’re a member, read all about the details of informed eating (and more!).