If you’re starting keto, you may know by now that pasta and grains are not recommended on this meal plan. The carbs in pasta are simply too great and negatively impact your blood sugar to be included.
In other words, the carbs in pasta will kick you out of ketosis almost every time and sabotage your weight loss efforts and overall health goals.
You may have tossed your cereal boxes in the trash, donated the unopened boxes of rice, and given 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 pasta options is almost overwhelming. Spaghetti, macaroni, fusilli, rigatoni, farfalle, fettuccine linguine, penne, rigatoni — and that just makes up a small portion of the extensive list.
These days, the sources for what pasta is made out of is almost as long as the list of shapes: white rice, brown rice, quinoa, corn, lentils, soy, and the list goes on. While these options are still likely too high in net carbs to be safe on the keto diet, you aren’t totally out of options.
Below, you’ll find out how the carbs in pasta impact your blood sugar, why it’s a good idea to avoid pasta on keto and low-carb diets, and a few healthier alternatives to enjoy instead.
You already know that pasta isn’t a keto-friendly food. But why is that? To understand why pasta is not keto-friendly, you need to understand how pasta is made and how it impacts your blood sugar.
How Pasta Is Made
Traditional pasta is a noodle made from unleavened dough of durum wheat flour. When mixed with eggs and water, it can mold into different shapes, becoming pasta dough — although not all pasta contains egg.
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. And that’s not very much pasta at all.
How the Carbs in 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, pasta, 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[*].
A spike in blood sugar not only wrecks ketosis, but it also leads to a surge of insulin and a drastic swing in energy. Healthier sources of carbohydrates don’t have this effect. They typically have more fiber and fewer simple carbs, meaning they take longer to break down. While the keto diet severely limits your overall carb intake, choosing carbs wisely is a big part of the diet.
What About Whole-Grain Pasta?
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).
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 — this includes 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 followed by an insulin crash[*].
Complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, contain fiber and starch.
Fiber is indigestible and is not broken down into simple sugars like starch, 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 more keto-friendly.
Whole-grain pasta ranks 48 on the glycemic index, just one point below white pasta[*]. Even with the additional fiber, the amount of carbs is still way too high.
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 keto-friendly, there are plenty of low-carb alternatives to satisfy your cravings.
Here’s a list of the top three keto-friendly pasta substitutes:
- Spaghetti squash: This yellow-orange 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 simply bake it and top with chicken parmesan.
- Zoodles: Also known as zucchini noodles, zoodles are easily made with 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-inspired 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.
Even though conventional nutrition tells you complex carbohydrates like whole wheat and whole-grain breads and pasta are “healthy” alternatives, the carbs in pasta are simply too high.
Complex carbs like whole-grain pasta still have a high glycemic index. As it turns out, 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.