If you are one of those people who must manage your blood sugar or insulin levels – someone with diabetes, for instance – you need to know your pasta. Why? Because how a particular pasta is manufactured will determine how it will affect your blood sugar.
It used to be the case that most pasta had a low glycemic index, in other words it didn’t cause a spike in your blood-glucose levels because it digested very slowly in your system. These days, however, because manufacturers have changed the way they make pasta in order to be more efficient, the glycemic index of pasta can vary considerably.
Also, in the U.S., most pasta makers do not declare the glycemic index or the digestibility of their products. As a result, you have no idea as to whether the pasta you select is better or worse for you – at least not until you monitor your post-pasta consumption blood sugar.
Let’s look at how ingredients, the intrinsic structure of pasta and the successive changes of its two main components – starch and proteins – during pasta making and cooking can affect both eating and nutritional quality.
Why pasta ingredients matter for blood sugar
In the past, pasta was mostly made from just semolina and water; commercial pasta may also contain other ingredients such as eggs, egg white, salt, durum flour, wheat flour and emulsifiers. The main ingredient, semolina, is a coarsely ground flour milled from durum wheat – the hardest of all wheats.
Semolina is milled using sharp-toothed rolls that cleanly cut the endosperm of the kernel into fairly large particles or chunks of semolina, producing very little flour. Your digestive enzymes can’t so easily get to the starch in these coarse particles. Durum flour, on the other hand, has finer kernel particles and exposes almost all of its starch to enzyme action. Flours made from other wheats also have greater accessibility to enzyme action.
So, if you are watching your blood sugar, pasta made from chunky semolina would be better than pasta made from fine semolina or durum or wheat flours – simply by virtue of lower digestibility and lower glycemic index.
Additionally, durum wheat is unique in that it has very hard and almost translucent kernels. The greater hardness and translucency of durum compared to other wheats and grains, such as corn and rice, is due to the unique way in which Mother Nature lays down protein and carbohydrates in durum wheat without allowing for any open spaces or softness. The density and hardness of durum therefore accounts for the slower digestibility and lower glycemic index of pasta made from semolina in comparison with pasta made from durum or wheat flour, whole wheat, wheat farina, rice or corn.