5 diabetes-friendly pasta recipes

People with diabetes can eat pasta but should choose whole grain types and watch their portion size. Diabetes-friendly pasta recipes may include alternative types of pasta, along with healthy vegetables, protein, and low-fat sauces.

This article discusses whether people with diabetes can eat pasta and gives suitable recipes.

We also explore how carbohydrates impact blood sugar and explain which carbs are best for people with diabetes.

Finally, we offer tips about eating pasta and alternatives to consider and answer some frequently asked questions.

People with diabetes can eat pasta but should choose whole grain types or wheat alternatives. They must also consider portion size and what they choose to accompany the pasta.

A person with diabetes needs to consider the types of carbohydrates, or carbs they choose to eat. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises people with diabetes to choose complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and get digested more slowly by the body. The body digests refined carbohydrates quickly, causing blood sugar spikes.

Manufacturers remove the outer layers and most nutritious parts of the grain while processing refined carbs; laws require them to add nutrients artificially.

Learn more about simple carbs vs. complex carbs here.

Whole grains and legumes are complex carbs. In terms of pasta, whole grain versions are complex carbs, and white pasta is refined carbs.

Learn more about what makes whole grains so healthy here.

The following are recipes adapted from the ADA Diabetes Food Hub and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The recipes include vegan, vegetarian, and family meals and ideas for batch-cooking.

Chicken, pasta, and spinach soup (serves 4)

Adding a lean protein such as chicken to a pasta dish slows down how quickly blood glucose rises.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces (oz) whole grain pasta
  • 2 cups cooked and diced chicken breast
  • 1 (14 oz) can low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • packed baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon (tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Combine the broth and tomatoes and their liquid and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the pasta, return to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the pasta is just tender.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Sprinkle the cheese over the soup if desired.

Read more about other chicken recipes for people with diabetes.

Chickpea pasta with garlicky roasted vegetables (serves 5)

The following recipe is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Add the olive oil to a bowl of zucchini and broccoli and stir to coat the vegetables.
  2. Roast the vegetables and the garlic cloves in their skin in an oven at 400 degrees F for around 20 minutes until they are tender. Slip the garlic from its skin and chop to use in the recipe.
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, cook the chickpea penne according to the instructions on the box.
  4. Drain the pasta and add the roasted vegetables, garlic, and a sprinkling of dried oregano and salt and black pepper to taste.
  5. Top with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.

Cold pasta salad (12 servings)

Someone can batch cook this recipe and keep it in the refrigerator to portion it into lunch servings or quick dinners for a household. A single serving is a cup of pasta salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (lb) dry whole wheat pasta such as fusilli, pappardelle, or conchiglie
  • 1 large cucumber, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • half a cup each of light Italian and light French salad dressing
  • 1 can drain black olives
  • ½ cup fresh chopped herbs such as basil, parsley, or oregano

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
  2. Add all the other ingredients and mix well.

Slow-Cooker Minestrone Soup (serves 10)

This vegetarian recipe makes a good option for a large household or to batch cook and freeze.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked (or 2 oz of dry) whole grain elbow pasta
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 15 oz can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Add all the ingredients, except the pasta and baby spinach, to a 6- or 7-quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 7–8 hours.
  2. Increase the heat to high and stir in pasta and spinach. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
  3. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Whole grain pasta with Brussels sprouts and walnut vinaigrette

This recipe is a tasty way to use nutritious Brussels sprouts.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz dried whole grain linguine or spaghetti noodles
  • 1½ lbs Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced/shaved (about 8 cups)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

For the walnut vinaigrette:

  • ¼ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh chefs
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Toppings:

  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1–2 lemons, juiced

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the directions.
  2. In a food processor, combine the vinaigrette ingredients until smooth.
  3. Sauté the Brussels sprouts in olive oil and garlic for 12–15 minutes until tender and caramelized. Pour in the vinaigrette, toss to mix, and take off the heat.
  4. Combine the cooked and drained pasta with the Brussels sprout vinaigrette mixture.
  5. Top with toasted walnuts and lemon juice, and season to taste.

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient in foods such as pasta that the body breaks down into a type of sugar — glucose. Carbs raise a person’s blood sugar, and the pancreas releases insulin to help the glucose get into cells.

The body stores any excess as glycogen in the liver and as triglycerides in fat cells.

Learn more about healthy blood glucose levels here.

People with type 1 diabetes cannot make sufficient insulin and must take it as a medication. In type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to insulin and unable to process glucose correctly, resulting in high blood sugar.

Learn more about blood sugar spikes here.

How many carbs?

A doctor or dietitian can help a person with diabetes manage their carbs. For example, they may introduce someone with type 1 diabetes to carb counting, in which they log how many grams of carbs they eat at each meal and match this amount to their insulin dose.

Learn more about carb counting for diabetes here.

The ADA advises that while carb counting is suitable for type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes may use a more basic version based on carbohydrate choices. One “choice” contains about 15 grams (g) of carbohydrates in this method.

The ADA further explains that others with type 2 diabetes prefer to use the Diabetes Plate Method, which limits carbs to a quarter of the plate.

The following tips may help someone with diabetes to choose meals that include pasta:

  • always choose whole grain types of pasta
  • watch the portion size; stick to a quarter plate or half cup of cooked pasta
  • add a lean protein such as meat, poultry, fish, or beans to help balance blood sugar
  • Avoid adding high-sugar or high-fat sauces and dressings
  • Add vegetables to a pasta dish or serve with a side of extra vegetables such as salad greens, broccoli, or mixed vegetables
  • choose tomato-based sauces over rich and creamy dairy-based sauces if managing weight
  • check tomato-based sauces for added sugars
  • if choosing to add cheese, stick to low-fat types and smaller portions
  • use nutritional yeast as a low-fat alternative to cheese to sprinkle on pasta or add to sauces

Learn about healthy diabetes meal plans here.

People can find nutritional information on food labels, which they can use to calculate how much of each type of nutrient they consume. People can also look at the total carbohydrate content per portion if counting carbs.

The ADA advises that “net carbs” does not have a legal definition from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the ADA does not use this measurement either.

Here are some answers to common questions about pasta and diabetes.

Is reheated pasta better for people with diabetes?

Interestingly, reheated pasta may be better for people with diabetes.

According to a 2020 study, cooled and reheated white pasta in tomato sauce was associated with a faster return to baseline blood glucose than hot pasta. The researchers are not certain why this is but suspect that the cooking method changes the chemical structure of the pasta and its effects on blood sugar.

What pasta does not raise blood sugar?

All pasta raises blood sugar to a certain extent. However, whole grain types or those made from lentil, buckwheat, or pea flour contain more fiber than white pasta and may help to balance blood sugar better.

How much pasta can someone with diabetes eat?

The ADA advises that people can count carbs or use the Diabetes Plate Method to portion pasta. If using the Plate Method, people should eat no more than a quarter plate of pasta. It also states that a portion of cooked pasta is a half cup.

People with diabetes can include pasta as part of a healthy diet. However, they should choose whole grain varieties and be mindful of their portion size. A person can use the Plate Method, carb counting, or half-cup measurements to determine how much they eat.

Adding extra vegetables and protein may help to balance the blood sugar spike that eating pasta can cause. Additionally, there are alternatives such as vegetable noodles, cauliflower rice, and lentil pasta that someone may choose instead.

Lastly, avoiding high-sugar sauces or high-fat creamy dressings can help someone to manage their weight and diabetes. If unsure, a person can ask a dietitian or doctor to help them plan their meals.

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