When you have diabetes and you're monitoring your carbs, you may be wondering if whole-grain pasta is good for diabetes. Whole grains are actually considered a diabetes superfood, says the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and whole-grain pasta can certainly be a healthy choice.
When the first word on a nutrition label is "whole," that food is usually going to be high in fiber, as well as B vitamins, iron and other nutrients — and all of that is good for diabetes.
Read more: Whole-Grain Pasta Vs. Regular Pasta
Benefits of Whole Grains for Diabetes
"Whole-grain pasta contains exactly that — the whole grain," Hillary Hart, RDN, LD, dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says. "This means that these grains still contain the bran, endosperm and germ, which are rich in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, phytochemicals and other minerals. All of these beneficial nutrients take longer for our body to break down, which can cause a slower, steadier rise in blood sugar."
People with diabetes might avoid pasta because they associate it with high carbohydrates. But the ADA explains that there are three types of carbs. Sugars are the type that you want to limit or avoid. The other two types are starches and fiber. Starches include whole grains made into pasta. They are called complex carbs, which means they cause less of a rise in blood sugar.
Whole-grain pasta is a good source of fiber, which is the indigestible part of plants that is essential for health. You should get 25 to 30 grams each day. In addition to slowing down digestion, fiber fills you up, which means you may eat less. That can help you avoid eating extra carbs that are not good for diabetes and gaining weight, the ADA says.
Other Benefits of Whole Grains
Whole-grain pasta and other whole-grain foods like bread and cereal are not only good for diabetes, they are good for health in general. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health lists these health benefits from whole grains:
- Fiber in whole grains lowers cholesterol.
- Fiber may help prevent blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.
- Phytochemicals and antioxidants in whole grains may reduce the risk of some cancers.
"Processed pastas from refined grains are unfortunately stripped of the bran and germ, leaving us with less nutrients and fiber. This can cause a rapid and higher blood sugar spike in a person with diabetes. If given the choice, whole wheat will provide overall greater nutritional benefits," Hart says.
Enjoying Whole-Grain Pasta
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says people with diabetes should balance proteins and carbs by using the "plate method."
- Fill half of your plate with a healthy carb like a green vegetable.
- Fill one-fourth of your plate with a lean protein.
- Fill the last fourth of your plate with a whole grain or starchy carbohydrate, like whole-grain pasta.
Harvard says dietary guidelines recommend eating at least 6 ounces of a grain food every day and getting at least half from whole grains. The ADA says to check the food label on whole-grain pasta to see how much fiber is in a serving. More than 2.5 grams is good. More than 5 grams is excellent.
Healthy pasta for diabetes does not have to come from grains. "Grocery stores have been stocking up on pastas made from chickpeas, black beans, edamame, mung beans, red lentils and the list goes on," Hart says.
"These alternatives have become mainstream because they contain more protein and less carbohydrates than grain pasta. Not only do they contain all the health benefits of beans (fiber, B vitamins and many vitamins and minerals), they may also yield steadier blood sugars," Hart points out. "While the taste and texture of bean pastas may be different, it is a fantastic option to try. And it may just replace your pasta choice forever."
- American Diabetes Association: “What Superfoods Are Good for Diabetes?”
- Hillary Hart, RDN, LD, CDCES, registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist, Cleveland Clinic
- American Diabetes Association: “Types of Carbohydrates”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Whole Grains”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity”
- ADA: "Get to Know Carbs"