If you’re starting keto, you may know by now grains are not allowed.
You may have tossed the cereal boxes stored in your kitchen cupboards in the trash, donated the unopened boxes of minute rice, and you gave your last loaf of cinnamon raisin bread to your neighbors.
But pasta? Do you really have to give up your favorite Italian staple?
The long list of pastas is almost overwhelming. Spaghetti, macaroni, fusilli, rigatoni, farfalle, fettuccini, linguine, penne, rigatoni — and that just makes up a small portion of the extensive list.
Unfortunately, all forms of traditional pasta are incompatible with the keto diet.
Below, you’ll find out how pasta impacts your blood sugar, why it’s avoided on keto, and a few low carb, healthier alternatives to enjoy instead.
To understand why pasta is not keto-friendly, you need to understand how pasta is made, and how it impacts your blood sugar.
How Is Pasta Made?
Generally speaking, pasta is a noodle made from unleavened dough of a durum wheat flour. When mixed with eggs and water, it can mold into different shapes, becoming pasta.
The typical macronutrients of unenriched pasta include 14 grams of carbs, less than 1 gram of fat, and about 3 grams of protein for a 2-ounce serving size[*].
By eating just 4 ounces of pasta, you use up your carb allotment for the day.
How Does Pasta Impact Your Blood Sugar?
To understand how pasta impacts your blood sugar, you first need to understand the glycemic index.
The glycemic index measures how much a particular food raises your blood sugar, on a scale of 0–100. High carb foods that spike your blood sugar (like white bread, corn tortillas, and white rice) rank higher on the glycemic index, between 46 and 75[*].
Foods that do not appear to raise your blood sugar at all, like meat and leafy green vegetables, rank lower on this scale.
White spaghetti ranks 49 on the glycemic index. To put this into context, spaghetti will raise your blood sugar slightly less than a slice of whole grain bread (which ranks 53)[*].
For the longest time, nutritionists and other proponents of the Standard American Diet (SAD) encouraged consumers to choose “healthy whole grains,” including whole wheat pasta and bread as part of a healthy diet.
This rationale stems from the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates (with whole grains being a complex carb and white bread and pasta simple carbs).
What’s the Difference Between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates?
There’s only one difference between a simple and complex carbohydrate — how many sugar molecules it contains.
- A simple carbohydrate is comprised of one or two sugar molecules called monosaccharides and disaccharides, respectively.
- A complex carbohydrate is made up of three or more sugar molecules.
Simple carbohydrates are commonly found in foods stripped of all nutrients, including soda, candy, refined sugar, and white flour. They contain sugar without starch or dietary fiber to slow down digestion, causing a massive blood sugar spike[*].
Complex carbohydrates, like starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, contain fiber and starch.
Fiber is indigestible and is not broken down into simple sugars like starch or sugar, so it helps prevent a sudden spike in blood sugar levels[*]. That’s why you typically track your net carbs (total carbohydrates – total fiber = net carbohydrates) on keto.
However, just because a food contains fiber, it doesn’t make it keto-friendly.
Does Whole Grain Pasta Spike Your Blood Sugar?
Even though whole grain pasta contains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white pasta, it’s not any healthier or keto-friendly.
Whole grain pasta ranks 48 on the glycemic index, just one point below white pasta[*]. Even with the additional fiber, it’s simply too carb-heavy.
Not to mention, gluten can wreak havoc in your intestinal tract even if you don’t have celiac disease.
So what you can eat instead?
While the carb count of both white and wheat pasta are too high to be considered keto friendly, there are plenty of low carb alternatives to satisfy your cravings.
Here is a list of the top three keto-friendly pasta substitutes:
- Spaghetti squash: Spaghetti squash ranks with cauliflower as one of the most versatile vegetables in existence. Try spaghetti squash for all your favorite Italian dishes, including angel hair topped with marinara, pasta carbonara, or topped with chicken parmesan.
- Zoodles: Zoodles or zucchini noodles, are easily made using a zucchini and a spiralizer. Spiralize your zucchini, then pat dry with a paper towel to extract any excess moisture. Toss your zoodles in a pan for 30 seconds to achieve an al dente pasta, while two minutes will provide a softer texture.
- Miracle noodles: Miracle noodles, or shirataki noodles, are carb-free, calorie free, gluten-free, and vegan. Made up of 97% water, shirataki noodles make an excellent base for pad thai and other Asian-fusion dishes.
For Pasta Night, Choose a Low Carb Alternative Instead
If you’re overcome with carb cravings, here’s a bit of unfortunate news: Pasta is completely off-limits on the keto diet.
This might come as a surprise as conventional nutrition tells you complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat and whole grain breads and pasta, are “healthy” alternatives.
In reality, complex carbs like whole grain pasta still rank too high on the glycemic index to be considered keto-friendly. Actually, whole grain pasta spikes your blood sugar almost as much as white pasta.
Instead, get creative and choose a low carb substitute, like zoodles, spaghetti squash, or miracle noodles. They’re lower in calories and total carbohydrates, while being higher in vitamins in nutrients. Your blood sugar — and your waistline — will thank you.