I thought I would come back to the Nutrition Confusion series with this common question that I get anytime I go out to an Italian restaurant with friends, is gluten free pasta healthier than regular pasta? The gluten free diet trend has truly made a lasting impact on our food choices at restaurants and stores. It is very rare you can go out to eat these days and not see a gluten free label on the menu somewhere. Large companies like General Mills have even adapted their manufacturing facilities to be more friendly to those who are sensitive or allergic to gluten. So what about this gluten free thing, is it healthy, is gluten actually that bad for you, will being gluten free help you lose weight?
First off, what is gluten? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation gluten is a protein found in various grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Approximately 1% of the population has Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease where gluten causes damage to their small intestine. Some people are allergic to gluten, like any other food allergy, but many more people might be intolerant to gluten, experiencing symptoms such as gas, bloating, acne, constipation, fatigue, brain fog, or headaches. The reason for a lot of these issues is that American produced gluten has been grown in a way that makes it highly inflammatory for our bodies, and inflammation leads to many of the symptoms listed above. In the U.S., the gluten free movement became popular when the books “Wheat Belly” and “The G Free Diet” came out. Before this, very few people in America were aware of issues that might arise because of gluten, even though it was very well-known in countries like Australia and England.
So, enough of the boring stuff, what’s the point? When more research surfaced on gluten, many in the diet industry took advantage of the opportunity to start a new diet craze. Going gluten free did coincide with weight loss for some people, as they just cut out gluten-containing foods like bread, pasta, or cookies without trying to replace it with a gluten free alternative (duh when you are cutting most carbs you will lose weight). Unfortunately, as people starting seeing success with being gluten free, more companies began creating gluten free alternatives to commonly enjoyed carby products. All of a sudden, a very healthy way of living became filled with worse flours and additives, used to create the same taste that people were accustomed to with gluten containing products. I was actually gluten free for 7 years, and I can promise you, it did not help me lose weight! You might wonder why this is so if you are eliminating an entire class of food?
This article is on pasta, so let’s look at the difference between regular and gluten free pasta.
- Plain penne pasta: 200 calories, 1 g fat, 42 g carbs, 7 g protein
- Gluten free penne: 200 calories, 1 g fat, 44 g carbs, 4 g protein
As you can see above, as far as calories and carbs go, you aren’t actually doing yourself any favors when choosing gluten free over regular, and with less protein, gluten free might be worse if you don’t need it. You would be better off going with a protein filled or whole wheat pasta over gluten free if you can tolerate gluten. That doesn’t even list the additives that some gluten free pastas require to maintain a similar consistency, taste, and texture to regular pasta.
However, if you are trying to lose weight, here are some awesome pasta options that won’t leave you missing the noodles (personally, I think that noodles are just a vehicle for sauce and toppings anyways).
- Zucchini noodles
- Carrot noodles
- Soy or rice noodles
- Bean noodles (try the black bean or mung bean noodles)
- Spaghetti squash
Check out my recipe for an incredible spaghetti squash bake that seriously will make you think you are eating pasta!
What did we learn here?
- If you don’t have celiac or a gluten allergy, you do not need to eat gluten free pasta
- If you are trying to lose weight, try making pasta out of vegetables. Top with something yummy and you won’t even notice!
- If you have celiac or a gluten allergy, stay away from gluten
- If you don’t have celiac or a gluten allergy, you actually should limit the amount of gluten containing foods you consume to minimize inflammation and replace with naturally gluten free alternatives like vegetables, fruit, rice, and potatoes
- Try my spaghetti squash bake