Diane Lambert, a 35-year-old mother of four, tells many people that she and her family eat gluten free. One of the first questions she gets is, "What do you eat in place of pasta?" She used to almost automatically say, "Brown rice pasta," the easiest substitute. But now she says, "Many different foods." She has learned that there are several pasta alternatives that are either more nutritious or lower in calories and carbs than the usual go-to pasta substitute-and some family members prefer them or experience better health effects from eating them. If you would like a change of pace, try these different pasta possibilities.
Quinoa pasta. Quinoa, often called a "super-grain," is not really a grain but it does have some super nutrition qualities. It is a complete vegetable protein that provides all essential amino acids in a balanced pattern, and it's rich in iron, magnesium, and fiber. Pasta made out of quinoa flour has a different taste than rice pasta-a taste that is preferred by some but not by others. Look for Ancient Harvest Gluten Free Organic Pasta made with organic quinoa flour and organic corn flour or Andean Dream Gluten-Free Quinoa Pasta made with organic quinoa and rice flour.
Buckwheat noodles. Buckwheat is another nongrain food. Buckwheat ranks low on the glycemic scale, meaning it doesn't raise blood sugar levels very high. Also called soba noodles, buckwheat noodles have a strong, distinctive taste and are often used in Asian dishes. Buckwheat noodles often contain buckwheat and wheat, so read labels carefully. Eden Foods makes a 100 percent buckwheat version. The noodles are fragile if overcooked, so cook them al dente.
Brown rice pasta with flaxseed. For a different twist on brown rice pasta, try brown rice pasta made with omega-3-rich flaxseeds from Hodgson Mill. Flaxseed adds a richer, nuttier flavor to the noodles, and many people say this pasta, which is produced in a strictly maintained gluten-free facility, behaves more like "real" wheat-based pasta.
Spaghetti squash. This vegetable is a substitute for pasta that is considerably lower in carbs and higher in nutrients. Bake it whole (or cut in half) in the oven. Then remove the seeds from the center and use two forks to loosen the strands of squash, which look like spaghetti. Serve the "pasta" on plates and top with gluten-free pasta sauce, pesto sauce, sautéed chicken or shrimp and vegetables, or organic butter or olive oil and herbs.
Kelp noodles. Kelp is a sea vegetable that's rich in iodine and many other nutrients and very low in calories and carbohydrates. Noodles made from kelp are available from the Sea Tangle Noodle Company. Surprisingly, the noodles don't taste fishy but have a neutral taste that picks up the flavors of other foods. Try in salads or add at the last minute to stir-fries or soups.
Spaghetti Squash with Cilantro Pesto Sauce*
Here's a nutritious pasta substitute that makes an excellent accompaniment to baked fish or sautéed shrimp.
1 medium organic spaghetti squash
2 cups loosely packed fresh organic cilantro, large stems removed
½ cup roasted macadamia nuts or pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lime juice
½ cup organic extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp. unrefined sea salt
2 Tbs. chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Pierce spaghetti squash shell several times with a large fork, and place in a baking dish. Bake 25 minutes, turn squash over, and bake until flesh is tender and yields gently to pressure, 20 to 30 minutes more.
- While squash is cooking, strip cilantro leaves from stems and set leaves aside. Finely chop thin stems and place them in a blender or food processor.
- Add nuts, garlic, lemon and lime juices, oil, and sea salt, and puree. Add the cilantro leaves and process until leaves are coarsely chopped.
- Once squash is cooked, let cool 10 to 15 minutes, then cut in half and use a spoon to remove seeds and strings from the center. Pull two forks lengthwise through flesh to separate into long strands.
- Pile the "spaghetti" into a large bowl, add pesto sauce and mix well. Serve, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves.
PER SERVING: 308 CAL; 3 G PROT; 42 G TOTAL FAT (6 G SAT FAT); 20 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 243 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 1 G SUGARS
* Reprinted from the "Going Against the Grain Group," 2011, by Melissa Diane Smith.