Pasta Substitutes for People With Diabetes

There's so much to love about pasta: The noodles can take on any flavor and give a sense of savory satiety. But pasta is packed with carbohydrates, which, when eaten in excess, can increase inflammation, cause weight gain, and raise blood sugar - especially in patients with diabetes .

Different pastas laying next to each other
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If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy pasta—just be sure to keep an eye on your portions and go for whole wheat, which will increase your fiber, vitamins, minerals and reduce any resulting blood sugar spike (when compared to white pasta). On the other hand, there are plenty of healthy pasta substitutes, if you're willing to think outside the box.

Chickpea pasta, for example, is higher in protein than white pasta and is gluten-free. There are plenty of pasta alternatives on the market today—you can also make your own 'mock' pasta by using different types of vegetables. Here are the latest options in the wide world of pasta. 

Whole Wheat, Fortified, or Gluten-Free

Whole grain pasta with salmon and broccoli
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Surprisingly similar in texture to al dente white pasta, a 1/3 cup serving of cooked whole wheat pasta has three times the fiber as white pasta, making it a better option for glucose control.    

Fortified pasta varieties are another alternative to white pasta. These types of pasta have been modified by adding a flour blend that includes egg whites and legumes for more protein; barley and oats for increased fiber; and flaxseed for healthy omega-3 fats.

These forms contain more protein and more fiber in the same amount of calories as regular pasta. The higher protein and fiber content are both helpful for diabetic glucose control. 

Lastly, gluten-free varieties are available in most supermarkets, such as pasta made with chickpeas (Banza) or other varieties made with brown rice, lentils, and quinoa. 

Remember that when eating any kind of pasta or starch, you always should read the label and follow the suggested serving size.

Ancient Whole Grains

Quinoa salad
Natasa Mandic/Stocksy United

Ancient whole grains can make a great alternative to traditional pasta. They may not resemble the appearance of pasta, but they fulfill the heartiness of pasta and take on the flavor of sauces while adding a huge nutritional punch.

More common grains, such as quinoa, have gained popularity in recent years. And less common ones in the American diet are appearing in recipes, such as farro, freekeh, and sorghum which are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

When cooked in chicken, beef or vegetable stock instead of plain water, they can be a very flavorful pasta alternative. Serve them as a side dish with fish or chicken, or top with another protein, such as egg or tofu, plus vegetables, and sauce. Or make grain-based salads—remember to keep your portions in check for best blood sugar control. 

Spaghetti Squash

Roasted spaghetti squash with herbs
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Spaghetti squash is often used as a substitute for pasta. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that is perfect for tomato-based sauces. When cooked, its flesh becomes stringy, resembling the look of spaghetti, meaning it can be easily subbed in as a lower-carbohydrate, more ​nutrient-dense version of traditional pasta dishes.

Another benefit of this swap is that when compared to traditional pasta, you can eat a large volume for the same amount of carbohydrates. In fact, 1 1/2 cups cooked, shredded spaghetti squash is equal in carbs to 1/3 cup of cooked pasta. 

Veggie Spirals and Ribbons

Carrot vegetable ribbons
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Use a vegetable peeler to produce spirals or ribbons of non-starchy vegetables to use in place of pasta. Some good options to try include zucchini, yellow summer squash, carrots, eggplant, peppers, and cabbage. Steam the ribbons for a similar mouthfeel to regular pasta. Enjoy a serving size of 1 1/2 cups of cooked veggie ribbons for only 15 grams of carbs.

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  2. Kajla P, Sharma A, Sood DR. Flaxseed-a potential functional food source. J Food Sci Technol. 2015;52(4):1857-71. doi:10.1007/s13197-014-1293-y