The scoop on pasta.
Emma Stirling APD
I’ll never forget the night my (misguided) girlfriend on a low carb diet, ordered a spaghetti marinara with a blithe, “hold the spaghetti”. I thought the Italian waiter would keel over. Pasta is often tainted as a “carb culprit” but did you know that it has a low GI? Check the database at www.glycemicindex.com (or The Shopper's Guide to GI Values) for the GI of your favourite brands. To enjoy pasta, manage your BGLs and have a healthy weight too, just follow my four step guide.
Step 1 - Go low GI Somewhat surprisingly, most pasta in any shape or form has a relatively low GI value (35–60). In the early days of GI research, it was assumed that pasta's low GI value was because the main ingredient was semolina (durum or hard wheat flour), and not finely ground wheat flour. Subsequent research has shown, however, that even pasta made entirely from plain wheat flour can have a low GI value. The reason for the slow digestion rate and subsequent low GI value is the physical entrapment of ungelatinised starch granules in a sponge-like network of protein (gluten) molecules in the pasta dough.
Step 2 - Harness wholegrains You can also boost nutrient intakes by choosing a product from the increasing range of wholemeal and wholegrain pasta options including the spelt and kamut pasta options.
- Canned spaghetti in tomato sauce and packet mix macaroni cheese are not low GI — they have medium to high GI values.
Step 3 - Keep portions moderate While the GI results are great news for pasta lovers, portion size is very important. It's crucial to keep your portion to around ½-1 cup cooked pasta to keep the GL (glycemic load) moderate. Remember, if you eat too large a portion of even a low GI food the glucose load becomes too large.
- Wholegrain pasta lends itself beautifully to a lunchtime salad with vegetables or legumes, nuts, seeds, canned fish and fresh herbs.
Step 4 - Cook like an Italian Al dente ‘firm to the bite’) is the best way to eat pasta — it’s not meant to be soft. It should be slightly firm and offer some resistance when you are chewing it. Although most manufacturers specify a cooking time on the packet, don’t take their word for it. Start testing about 2–3 minutes before the indicated cooking time is up. Overcooked pasta is very soft and swollen in size and will have a higher GI.
- Instead of piling your plate, why not pad out your pasta with a sauce laden with vegetables, lean meat or fish and seafood? this way you’ll turn one cup of cooked pasta into a satisfying volume of food and a complete meal.
- Adding egg to the dough lowers the GI further by increasing the protein content.
Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites and a healthy serve of what’s in flavour.