A Simple Trick to Make Pasta Healthier? Maybe, Maybe Not

Written by Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN

Study claim: Cooling pasta—and then reheating it—changes pasta's molecular structure from a refined starch to a resistant starch. The result: blood sugar spikes less. 

The Experts Weigh In: 

A small unscientific experiment carried out in England may have given pasta lovers who have diabetes some hope that they could tweak pasta to be more blood-sugar friendly. According to an experiment done on the BBC 2 series, Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, Chris van Tulleken, a researcher at the University College London, found when cooked pasta is cooled, its structure appears to change from a refined starch to more of a resistant starch

In the small group of volunteers who participated in this research, the rise in blood sugar dropped by as much as 50% after eating the reheated pasta.  And it’s not just pasta that seems to benefit from being cooled either. Some studies have also shown an increase in the resistant starch content of rice when cooled as well.

The reason a resistant starch is more appealing than a refined starch is because unlike refined carbs, which are digested quickly (and can lead to a spike in blood glucose levels) a resistant starch actually resists being broken down by enzymes in your stomach. That's because a resistant starch acts somewhat like dietary fiber and tries to resist digestion by passing through the gastrointestinal tract mostly unabsorbed. The possible effect: fewer spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels following a high-carb meal. 

Proceed with Caution 

When pasta is eaten in large amounts on a regular basis, it can make blood glucose levels difficult to control in individuals with diabetes. For this reason, dietitians strongly recommend choosing whole grain options over refined whenever possible, and also watching portion sizes.

But is it worth trying to reduce the carbs in white flour pasta by cooling and then reheating it? Julie Miller Jones, PhD, LN, CNS, professor emerita at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an expert on resistant starch explains “as a starch such as pasta cools, it begins to crystallize.” This crystallization causes some of the starch to resist digestion. But she points out that there are numerous variables that affect how food will be digested in the body including, “how long the starch is cooked, the shape of the pasta, and even how long the food is chewed.” With so many variables, cooling and reheating starch is not likely to have a significant impact on long-term blood sugar control. Dr. Jones also cautions “this process is not a way to reduce numerous calories. A few may be saved, but a person with diabetes will still need to count her carbohydrate intake.” 

 

However, if you love pasta and rice—and you stay mindful of portion size—why not experiment a bit at home with your own preparation methods.

Try cooling off one portion of pasta or rice and reheating it before eating, then test your blood glucose levels two hours after eating (counting from the time of your first bite of the meal). See if your levels run lower than on an occasion where you consume one portion of pasta or rice that has not been cooled and reheated.

Keep in mind though, even if you can increase the level of resistant starch in a refined carbohydrate like white rice, it is still a refined carbohydrate. Choosing 100% whole grain carbohydrate options such as whole wheat pasta and brown rice are still the best choices for health and blood sugar control.

 

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