Do you fear pasta? So many of my clients living with diabetes have sworn off pasta because they are worried about the impact on their blood sugar numbers. What a delicious relief to know that they may be able to fit this inexpensive, quick staple into a diabetes-friendlier meal plan. Here’s what I share with my clients. (Be sure to talk to your diabetes care team if you are considering making changes to your diet.)
Portions are paramount
If carbs count and calories are king, then portions are paramount. By eating a smaller serving, you may enjoy some of your favorite foods without going beyond your calorie and carbohydrate budget. A cup of spaghetti has more than 200 calories and nearly 45 grams of carbohydrate. If that’s more than your meal plan allows – or if you’re eating other carb-rich foods at the same meal – eat half a cup or less. That may be easier if you think of pasta as a side dish instead of an entrée. (Be especially cautious in restaurants. A large portion served on a gigantic plate might look like less than it really is.)
Stuff it with veggies
Not only are non-starchy vegetables filling, they’re low in calories and carbohydrates and are jam-packed with nutrients. Try these:
- Wash small pieces of kale in a colander. Leave it to drain. When your pasta is cooked, pour it in the colander with the kale. The hot water wilts the leafy greens.
- When making lasagna, alternate long thin slices of zucchini with lasagna noodles. Add broccoli or another favorite vegetable between the layers.
- Dilute your spaghetti with spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash. For each half cup of vegetable that replaces spaghetti, you’ll save close to 100 calories and 20 grams of carbohydrate.
- For pasta salad or pasta primavera, bulk up your serving with any vegetable on hand. In fact, use up what’s in your refrigerator to make a wholesome, satisfying pasta dish that’s more veggies than noodles. Add broccoli, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, snow peas, spinach and more!
Check out specialty pastas
Pastas are made out of all kinds of things these days, including lentils, edamame beans, soybeans, rice, buckwheat, flaxseed and more. Some are higher in fiber and protein than traditional spaghetti, but you still need to pay attention to calories and carbohydrates.
Before buying, scrutinize the labels for serving size, calories, total carbohydrates, fat and sodium. Check out some of these, too:
- Whole-wheat pastas may be grainer and chewier than white flour pastas, but they’re usually a bit higher in fiber.
- Whole-wheat and white blends are a good stepping-stone to 100% whole-wheat pasta.
- Lower-carb and higher-fiber pastas may or may not affect your blood sugar less than traditional pastas. The best way to find out how any meal impacts your blood sugar is to measure it just before eating and again in 2 to 4 hours after your first bite. The difference between the two readings is largely the effect of the meal.
Enjoy it al dente
Avoid overcooked, soft pasta. Slightly firm pasta has a lower glycemic index and may boost blood sugar a little less.
Sauce it smart
Skip Alfredo and other creamy sauces loaded with saturated fat in favor of vegetable-based sauces. But be sure to read labels on even the simplest marinara sauces. Some may have added sugars and lots of salt. Olive oil with garlic is tasty and healthy if you can handle the extra calories. A single tablespoon of oil rings up 120 calories.
Bump up the flavor of any pasta dish with a generous handful of fresh herbs, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese or both.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE*, FAND, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Diabetes Forecast, and Kids Eat Right. She has a private practice in Newport News, VA. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience