Pasta is certainly a carby staple for a lot of people; many ethnicities grow up on pasta. When people come to see me to start a low-carb or keto diet, they are often surprised that they have to give up pasta. The problem with pasta is that it is very high in carbohydrates – carbohydrates are sugars and starches. Introducing: Pasta substitutes.
Pasta, Pasta substitutes and glucose levels
You might look at pasta and think, “Well, that’s not sugar,” but it really is. Pasta gets digested in our stomachs, and we have acid – the level of battery acid in our stomachs – to be able to digest and purify what we ingest, breaking down the pasta or starch into sugar. The simple way to test this would be to check your blood sugar or glucose after you eat pasta. Many people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or just curious individuals, are checking their own blood sugars. You don’t have to believe me; you could just check any food one hour after you eat it to see if there is a rise in blood sugar. Pasta will raise it.
Is pasta a no-go?
Pasta is not forbidden; it’s just that if a food or drink contains a lot of carbs, you shouldn’t consume much of it. Remember, the keto diet is a way of fat burning, and you have to burn through all of the sugars and starches before your body will give up any of its stored fat. To become a fat burner or get into nutritional ketosis, you want to keep the carbs really low. Pasta is a big source of carbohydrates. You can often just have a taste or a small amount, but some people look at me like that’s crazy; they can’t just have a forkful of spaghetti. In that case, I would say don’t have real spaghetti for a while when you’re starting a keto diet or trying to get off a plateau. There are a lot of substitutions that are pretty common, and maybe some uncommon ones you haven’t thought about.
Pasta substitutes – Zoodles
If you go to the store, you may find something called zoodles – zucchini noodles. These are very popular on a low-carb diet. As is spaghetti squash, where squash is processed to be stringy like spaghetti. If you want to know if you can have a particular pasta substitute on a low-carb keto diet, it really all boils down to how many grams of total carbohydrates – not net carbs (that’s like over-the-counter medicine; I’m teaching the prescription version, meaning it’s a little more powerful). I’ve seen people who do net carbs change to total carbs, and things start working. If you want to start things off the right way, count the total carbs. I looked up the nutritional facts for zucchini noodles or zoodles of a major food manufacturer’s frozen food, “Veggie Spirals.” I’m looking at the facts on the back of the package. It says that the total carbohydrate content is 2 grams. That is really low if you are on a maximal fat-burning diet; it would be far under your 20 total grams for the day. But wait, how many servings does this refer to? How big is the serving size? The serving size is three-quarters of a cup, and there are four servings per container. You have to be a little careful about looking at the labels. If you ate the whole container, you would have three cups of the Veggie Spirals, which would give you eight grams of total carbs. That’s pretty good. Zucchini is a vegetable, and vegetables have carbs – it’s roughly about five to ten per cup for a non-starchy vegetable. So, it is a great idea to have a veggie spiral as long as it’s made out of something like zucchini.
I looked up another plant-based pasta substitute made out of chickpeas. I do raise my hackles because chickpeas are not something I normally tell people they can have; it’s not low starch. The ingredients here are chickpea flour, and the total carbs are 34 grams. That’s really high compared to the 2 grams of zucchini.
I have also become accustomed to hearing that my patients eat Shirataki noodle pasta. Not shiitake like mushrooms (it’s not made of mushrooms); it’s made out of yam root. Looking at one brand of Shirataki noodles I see there are 3 total carbs for a serving size of four ounces with two servings per container. That’s super low. Another brand, however, contains 15 total carbs per serving. Be careful and don’t just take it at face value; make sure you look at the nutritional facts on the back. Some of these Shirataki noodles come already flavored. For some of them, you have to rinse them a little bit because they have a fishy smell when you open them. Don’t worry about that fishy smell; they don’t taste fishy.
How many vegetables can you eat on a keto diet?
A useful rule is that a fist roughly compares to the size of one measuring cup. This just gives you an idea of how much volume of vegetables to eat. A quarter cup is actually just one knuckle’s worth for me. If you have a very small fist, it’s going to be a little more; if you have a very large fist, it’s going to be a little less. But that will just give you a rough idea. On a 20-gram total carb or less program, we advise people to have about a fistful of non-starchy vegetables for the whole day and about two fistfuls or two cups of leafy greens for the whole day. That keeps the total carbs down to about 10 or 15 for those types of nutrients that you get from the non-starchy vegetables and the leafy greens.
In review, stick to real food as much as possible. If you can get a zoodle or spaghetti squash and you like it, that’s probably the greatest substitute for pasta. Shirataki noodles are also a great option. Chickpea pasta is not very low, so be sure to always read the labels on these products and keep the carbs under 20 grams total per day for maximal fat burning.
Watch the full video here.