Just because a food is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Case in point—pasta.
Background: Eating less gluten has been statistically linked to an increased risk for diabetes. One hypothesis for the connection is that food choices people make when they avoid gluten may be more likely to raise blood sugar too much after meals. Over time, that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A new study looked at one popular food—gluten-free pasta—to see how it affects blood sugar after a meal.
Study: In this small, monthlong study, 13 healthy adults ate either standard wheat-based pasta or one of three gluten-free varieties (brown rice, a blend of rice and corn, a blend of corn and quinoa). None of the participants had gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy or celiac disease. Each participant ate one kind of pasta per week so that over the course of four weeks everyone had tried each kind. Their blood was drawn 30 minutes after each pasta meal.
Results: All the gluten-free pastas sent blood sugar higher after meals than did the regular pasta. The rice/corn mixture was the worst—over the next two hours after eating it, blood sugar levels were 47% higher than they were after participants ate regular pasta. The “least bad” gluten-free pasta for raising blood sugar was the corn/quinoa combo, but it still led to blood sugar levels 14% higher than with the wheat pasta. Brown rice pasta led to 18% higher blood sugar level.
Bottom line: Typical wheat-based pasta is a refined product—but so are most gluten-free pastas, and in many cases they are made from grains that are naturally higher in starch than wheat. Gluten, the researchers note, slows the body’s digestion of starch, which partly explains the lesser spike in blood sugar compared with gluten-free pasta. Many gluten-free products—not only gluten-free pasta—are low in fiber and protein, macronutrients that help regulate blood sugar. Choosing foods that help keep your blood sugar in check is important for everyone (and particularly for people who have prediabetes or diabetes). If you have a reason to avoid gluten-containing foods, such as celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or an allergy to wheat, be sure to choose foods that have adequate protein and fiber. Here’s one place to start—gluten-free whole grains.