Pasta is all about comfort, which can be a bad word when it comes to nutrition. And if you live with type 2 diabetes, you might have heard that it’s a food to avoid.
But if you love pasta and are ready to make a few changes to the typical dish, you might not have to say goodbye to that meal to feel good.
Although higher in carbohydrates than other foods, pasta can fit into a healthy diet for someone with diabetes, says Toby Smithson, RDN, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) at Hilton Head, South Carolina. , and author of Diabetes Meal Planning. and nutrition for dummies.
In fact, people with type 2 diabetes who ate a 50 gram (g) serving of pasta experienced lower spikes in blood sugar than after eating equal portions of white bread, potato, or white bread. rice, according to clinical studies prior to those referenced in a study. published in the April 2021 issue of BMJ Nutrition, Prévention & Santé. You just need to watch your portion sizes and prepare this dish with care, for example limiting certain ingredients and mixtures (like cheese, meat and sauce). Taking smart steps like these can help keep your blood sugar, weight, overall health, and nutrition on track.
Below, diabetes educators and registered dietitians share their go-to strategies for making pasta as diabetes-friendly as possible.
1. Choose Whole-Grain Pasta
An easy way to make your pasta dish more nutritious is to replace traditional noodles with a higher fiber variety. “Wholemeal pasta can be a great option because it offers more fiber, which can help reduce spikes in blood sugar,” says Smithson.
Many typical white pasta noodles are made with semolina flour, which is made by grinding a type of wheat known as durum wheat, according to Bob’s Red Mill. While semolina can be a nutritious flour, especially when fortified with vitamins and minerals, whole wheat pasta has a slight advantage. “Nothing is removed during processing, so it has the highest nutritional value, including fiber,” says Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, RDN, CDCES, registered dietitian at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
Two ounces (oz) of raw semolina spaghetti noodles (about 1 cup cooked) provide 200 calories, 42g of carbohydrates, and 3g of fiber, making it a good source of nutrients. But an equal serving of whole grain spaghetti contains 180 calories, 39g of carbs, and 7g of fiber, making it a great source of fiber.
2. Make Veggies the Star of Your Bowl
To make your bowl more suitable for diabetes, just add some color i.e. veggies.
Specifically, focusing your pasta dish on naturally low-calorie, non-starchy vegetables increases the amount of food and adds vitamins and minerals, says Smithson.
“Non-starchy vegetables are very high in fiber and contain very little carbohydrate, which means less of an effect on blood sugar,” says Anderson-Haynes. She recommends filling about half of your plate or bowl with options like kale, collard greens, arugula, broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, spinach, carrots, or mushrooms.
3. Skip Creamy Sauce In Favor of an Oil- or Tomato-Based Sauce
Like other “white” foods to cut out of your diet (think: white bread, white rice, and yes, white pasta), cut out the white sauce when preparing a more diabetes-friendly meal.
As Anderson-Haynes points out, traditional cream-based sauces tend to contain more saturated fat and sodium than other options. “People with diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease, so it’s imperative to choose heart-healthy foods that are low in sodium and fat,” he says. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), foods high in saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Meanwhile, consuming too much sodium in your diet can increase your risk for high blood pressure, one of the main risk factors for heart disease, notes the AHA.
Smithson suggests choosing sauces made with olive oil and fresh garlic, which offer potential heart health benefits.
Olive oil, for example, contains a type of healthy fat known as monounsaturated fat. This type of fat can help lower cholesterol, a waxy substance that is beneficial in small amounts, when replaced with less healthy fat sources like butter, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
These effects are supported by research. For example, a study of nearly 100,000 healthy men and women found an association between replacing a tablespoon (tablespoon) of butter or margarine with an equal amount of olive oil and a 5-7% lower risk of heart disease after four years. Although drawn from a large group of participants, the study relied on self-reported questionnaires, which can leave room for error. The results were published in the March 2020 issue of the journal Circulation.
Meanwhile, research suggests that allicin, a natural compound in garlic with antioxidant properties, may have a positive effect on blood sugar. A review published in September 2017 in the journal Food & Nutrition Research found that a supplement form of the herb significantly reduced fasting blood sugar within one to two weeks. The researchers looked at nine randomized controlled trials involving a total of 768 people living with type 2 diabetes and consuming between 0.05g and 1.5g of garlic. Most of the trials included fewer than 80 participants and lasted only 12 weeks. That said, research has looked at the daily use of garlic supplements and found better blood sugar control in two weeks, as well as 24 weeks in people with type 2 diabetes. It remains to be seen if similar results apply to raw garlic consumed with an occasional bowl of pasta.
Remember, olive oil provides healthy fats, but it’s still high in calories (124 calories per tablespoon), so practice portion control. Use half a cup of olive oil and 4 to 5 cloves of garlic per pound of cooked pasta, suggests Smithson. Divide the sauce evenly between each serving of pasta (typically a third of a cup of cooked noodles equals 1 serving, according to Smithson).
Red pasta sauces like marinara or classic tomato are other great options, “because they are overall lower in fat and calories” than cream-based sauces, explains Jana Mowrer, RDN, MPH, a company based at CDCES in Fresno, California. Just stick to a serving of half a cup to three quarters of a cup, he adds.
When shopping for a packaged red sauce, choose a jar that has no added sugar and ideally no more than 15g of carbohydrate and 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium per half-cup serving, explains Mowrer.
4. Experiment With Veggie Noodles
If you can’t handle the wheat, or want to cut down on the carbs in your pasta dish even more, try making vegetarian noodles. If you don’t have a spiralizer or mandolin (two kitchen utensils used to spiral products by hand), you can use a vegetable peeler. Simply take the peeled vegetable strips and place them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then transfer the noodles to a bowl of ice cream, Smithson says. “To make preparation easier, you can buy vegetarian spiral noodles,” he adds.
As long as they’re not made with squash or sweet potatoes, which are starchy, vegetable-based spirals will be the lowest-carb option, says Smithson. Plus, vegetarian noodles are generally lower in calories, while providing plenty of vitamins and minerals.
A cup of cooked zucchini spirals, for example, has just 27 calories and 5g of carbohydrate, according to the USDA, while a cup of barilla brand cooked whole grain spaghetti noodles has 180 calories and 39g of carbohydrates.
That same serving of zucchini also offers 23.2 mg of vitamin C, making it a great source, and 476 mg of potassium, making it a good source.
Peppers, broccoli, carrots, and beets are other good low-carb vegetarian noodle options.
5. Practice Portion Control
Keeping portion sizes in mind for enjoying pasta is essential when managing type 2 diabetes. “The goal is to keep your blood sugar from getting too high,” says Mowrer.
Portions of food, especially in restaurants, are much larger today than 20 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Numerous studies have shown that people eat more when given larger portions and help themselves eat more when they have larger serving bowls and spoons, note the authors of a paper. research published in November 2014 in Advances in Nutrition magazine. With these increasing portions, come more carbohydrates and calories.
“When consuming pasta, it is important to include other food groups and practice portion control, aiming to consume about a quarter of carbohydrates, half of vegetables and a quarter of lean protein in. the plate per meal, ”explains Mowrer. The CDC recommends using a 9-inch baking sheet (about the length of a commercial envelope) to take the guesswork out of portion control. Some companies, like Livliga, sell plates and bowls that indicate the ideal amounts of certain foods to eat at a given meal.
The exact amount of carbohydrate to aim for depends on factors such as age, gender, activity level, and any medications you’re taking, explains Mowrer. He generally recommends that people with diabetes consume between 30 and 60 g of carbohydrate per meal. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends working with your CDCES to determine your carb goal.
6. Feature a Lean Protein
By combining a source of protein with a high-carb dish like pasta, you can prevent a rapid spike in blood sugar (and then a crash), Smithson says. This is because proteins are slower to digest than carbohydrates.
Plus, adding protein will make your pasta more satisfying, which can keep you from overloading your plate with carbohydrates, says Anderson-Haynes.
Go for a lean protein source like roast skinless chicken, ground turkey, or tofu. These foods tend to contain less saturated fat and sodium than red meat or processed meats like bacon, according to the ADA.
7. Go Easy on the Cheese
Pasta and cheese form a dynamic duo. And while people with diabetes don’t have to say goodbye to this delicious ingredient, moderation and choosing the right type are two keys to keeping your bowl healthy.
Performing portion control here may be an adjustment. Believe it or not, a single serving of cheese is only 1 ounce, which is about the length of your thumb from tip to bottom, according to the CDC. Do your best to go for that inch-sized portion, advises Mowrer.
When it comes to diabetes-friendly cheeses, choose white ones like mozzarella or Parmesan, which are lower in fat and lower in calories than other options. Mowrer suggests grating them to help the portions go deeper. One ounce of partially skimmed, low-fat mozzarella, for example, contains 70 calories and 4 g of fat (2.5 g of saturated fat), according to the USDA.
Limit or avoid fatty cheeses like ricotta. One ounce of Hyvee brand whole ricotta contains about 50 calories and 3.5g of fat, of which 2.25g is saturated fat, according to the USDA.
Low-fat, fat-free cheeses can also be good options. A “light” version of ricotta, for example, offers 30 calories and just 1.5g of fat (1g of saturated fat).