Ask Dr. Monti: Can Pasta Really Be Low-Carb?

Answer from Daniel A. Monti, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital

Dr. Monti

Question: Can carbs really be “protected”? I’ve been eating Dreamfields pasta recently and I love it, but is the company’s claim that there are only five grams of digestible carbs per serving, and that it therefore only affects blood sugar slightly compared to other pastas, legit? Can it really be used as part of a low-carb diet or as a better pasta option for diabetics?

Answer: I appreciated getting this question because it caused me to do a little investigative reporting, which confirmed my need to always remind patients that food labeling must be scrutinized carefully. The concept of a low-carb pasta via “protected” carbs certainly has its intrigue in our carb-conscious culture, but do the facts support the claims?

To start, the Dreamfields packaging and website are well done from a marketing perspective, albeit a bit slippery. Claims about net carbs and better glycemic index rest upon objective research data. The problem is that the website alludes to such data, but I simply could not find the literature references on the site; i.e., what peer-reviewed scientific journals the results were published in, nor could I find such information anywhere else. However, I did a scientific literature search and found a recent study by Nuttal et al, entitled, “Glycemic Response to Ingested Dreamfields Pasta Compared With Traditional Pasta”in Diabetes Care, an official journal of the American Diabetes Association. The authors noted that they decided to do their own study because they too could not find the scientific data claimed on the Dreamfields website, “after numerous attempts to obtain the data upon which the company based the observation of a dramatically lower glycemic index than that observed with traditional pasta was based, we decided to conduct our own, simple, single meal study.” The researchers compared equal amounts of a regular, low-cost pasta to the Dreamfields brand. As far as the Dreamfields claim that their pasta is as good tasting as regular pasta, the participants in the study agreed and could not tell the difference between the two pastas in the experiment. However, and more importantly, the study found that Dreamfields pasta did not result in a smaller glucose rise. To the surprise of the researchers, the mean post-meal glucose curves were essentially identical, which raises serious doubts about the claim of protected carbs.

Dreamfields also claims that their pasta has fiber content similar to that of whole wheat pasta, and that their pasta contains inulin, a digestible prebiotic fiber that may be good for gut health. These claims seem correct, and there also is a higher amount of wheat gluten. In conclusion, it is perfectly fine to eat Dreamfields pasta if you like its ingredients or the way it tastes, but if you are hoping for a guilt-free pasta that has no effect on blood sugar, think again. A final tip about pasta regardless of brand: If you want to minimize the blood sugar surge from eating it, it helps a little to cook it “al dente” or firmly, and to use dried semolina-based or better yet, whole-grain pasta versus fresh flour pasta. Moderate portions are key.

E-mail Dr. Monti your question here, and he could answer it an upcoming blog post! Dr. Monti is Director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the author of “The Great Life Makeover”. Read more about him here.

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