Aside from their higher price tag, perhaps the biggest frustration with gluten free noodles is the ingredients they use.
There are plenty of other nutritious grains they could be using, but instead they often use cheap fillers like rice.
What is the glycemic index of brown rice flour? In 2017 the University of Sydney – who is at the forefront of research for GI rankings – stated the following (1):
“To date there are no GI ratings for refined flour whether it’s made from wheat, soy or other grains. This is because the GI rating of a food must be tested physiologically that is in real people.”
Surprising, but it’s the truth.
Although no one has been able to find enough volunteers to scarf down 50 grams of raw rice flour for testing purposes, they have had no problem recruiting people to test the GI of products made with gluten free flours like rice and corn. Here are 5 of the highest in their database…
|GI Rankings of Gluten Free Pasta|
|Product Tested||Glycemic Index (GI)|
|1.||brown rice pasta, boiled 16 min. (Rice Grower’s Co-op, Australia)||92|
|2.||gluten free corn pasta (Orgran Foods)||78|
|3.||Ris’O’Mais rice and maize pasta (Orgran Foods)||76|
|4.||maize starch pasta, boiled 8 min (brand not disclosed)||54|
|5.||rice pasta (Freedom Foods)||51|
Out of the 35 entries for noodles in their research, the top several spots – as in those with the highest glycemic index ratings – go to the GF versions.
The Australian brand Freedom Foods did test as being competitive with wheat, but they don’t even make that product anymore. As to why it tested lower, our guess is that:
- It contained additional ingredients.
- They cooked it al dente, which will decrease the glycemic index of virtually any pasta. That’s because when it’s under-cooked, it takes longer for your body to digest and hence, the sugars (carbs) are released slower.
Contrast the above examples vs. regular wheat pasta, which often have a GI in the 40’s or 50’s. Those made with whole wheat fall on the low end of that range. Some have even tested in the 30’s and high 20’s.
So when we talk about better options, this is not just a predicament for bodybuilders and fitness buffs who want more protein in their diet.
It’s also of vital importance to diabetics and pre-diabetics to not be indulging in high GI foods, in order to avoid the blood sugar spikes. It’s not easy for celiacs to find low carb pasta (which have less glycemic impact) because of the types of flour typically used in the wheat free versions.
In those 35 tested brands, when you exclude the entries with added sauce and only look at the stand-alone noodles, what is their lowest GI pasta? As it turns out, it’s actually a gluten free brand, because they’ve substituted the high carb flours with protein rich ingredients.
Here are our reviews for 5 good alternatives to the rice-filled, corn-filled, and traditional wheat recipes. Higher on this list doesn’t necessarily mean the best though, as they each have their advantages and disadvantages (and yes, all of them have some flaws). The “best” one depends on which factors matter most to you. All are either protein enriched or contain ingredients which are naturally rich sources.
1. Banza pasta
Based out of Detroit, the Banza company was founded in 2013 by two brothers, Brian and Scott Rudolph. At the time, the youngest (Brian) was just 23 years old. They tinkered away to create a gluten free vegan pasta recipe that you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about eating.
- Texture of real pasta. Unlike brown rice varieties that often turn to mush (even when you cook them al dente), this brand holds its shape and texture quite well.
- Excellent taste. Customer reviews are generally quite positive and we would concur with that opinion.
- 14 grams of protein. A 2 ounce serving provides 14 grams for only 190 calories. Though for an entree, you are more likely to eat two servings which would come in with 28 grams of protein and 380 calories (before any sauce). In comparison, 100% brown rice pasta will be 200 calories with 4 grams of protein per serving (or 400 calories and 8 grams for a double portion).
- Vegan. Many similar products are only ovo-vegetarian because they make use of eggs, but Banza is egg-free and dairy-free.
- Low carb. Each serving is 32 grams which is 11% of your daily value.
- Reasonable price. Is it as cheap as we would want it to be? No. It’s not the $1.50 or $2.00 per pound box of Barilla wheat pasta. However, it is less than some GF brands made without rice or corn.
- Might be too much fiber for some. 8 grams per serving is 30% of your daily value. For people with GI motility issues, this may be too much. Though for the average American who gets little fiber elsewhere in their diet, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Chick peas can cause increased gas for some. Protein farts go along with any source whether from legumes, meat, or dairy. Looking at just the vegan sources, chick peas do have a reputation as being more likely to cause gas versus some others, like soy.
- Xanthan gum. This is a stabilizing and thickening plant-based ingredient. It’s an all-natural and non-GMO fiber. However if you’re looking for a gluten free pasta without xanthan gum, this won’t qualify. While it is considered safe in adults, some research has suggested that it might cause higher bacterial production in the intestines of newborns, which might lead to the development of ecrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) (2).
- Non-organic. It is non GMO, but it’s not organic.
2. Explore Asian black bean spaghetti
You may have seen this product sold in a bag before. In 2016 they switched over to a box. The 7 ounce bag (versus the 8 ounce box) is still being sold by many retailers, so you may encounter one or the other version for sale.
In addition to the new packaging, they seem to now be using the shortened Explore Cuisine name over the prior Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine.
The Explore Cuisine brand does make soup too, but by far the lion’s share of their business is the unique GF pasta noodles made with beans. They have 20 to 25 grams of protein per 2 ounce serving.
That plate of pasta you saw at the top of the article was made using this product.
- 25 grams of protein per 215 calorie serving. It’s the highest protein Explore Asian pasta product.
- Spaghetti, which is hard to find. Sure, you can buy brown rice spaghetti all day long, but finding low carb GF spaghetti that is rich in those amino acids is no easy task. Most that meet this criteria are penne, farfalle, elbow macaroni, fusilli, shells, and rigatoni. Explore Asian may be the best long noodle option.
- Simple ingredient. Notice we said ingredient, not ingredients. That’s because it’s only black beans! Perfect for those seeking gluten free pasta without corn due to an allergy. Ditto for those wanting to avoid xanthan gum.
- USDA certified organic. That also means it’s non GMO.
- Very high in potassium. It contains a whopping 1,267 mg of potassium per serving! Aside from being an essential mineral which we all need, potassium’s ability to help with electrolyte functions and muscle strength make it a must-have nutrient for bodybuilders and athletes (they need more).
- Low carb. 23 grams per serving is 8% of the daily value.
- Low fat. With 20 calories out of 215 coming from fat, this is less than 10% fat content.
- Super low sodium. At 4 mg per serving, that actually rounds down as being 0% of your daily value.
- Extremely high fiber. As mentioned above, too much of a good thing can sometimes be bad. At 12 grams per serving, that’s 48% of your daily value. If you eat 2 servings for your meal (which is more typical) then you are basically getting your entire daily value of fiber at once. That might wreck havoc on the digestive tract of an elderly person who has a slower moving system.
- Expensive in-store. The price your local Whole Foods charges might be significantly higher than what you can get it for online, at least in our experience.
- Finicky cooking time. The box says to cook it for 6 to 8 minutes. Even at 6 minutes, it often turns into a complete mush for us. To avoid this, we recommend cooking for 5 minutes sharp and draining promptly, which solves the problem.
3. Explore Asian adzuki bean spaghetti
There are actually two kinds from Explore Asian that we like and this is the other. Between the adzuki bean versus the black bean, you will get more with the latter but it’s not a huge difference.
In addition to these flavors, there are 3 others; edamame, edamame and mung bean, and soybean. We don’t like recommending those because they all contain more soy (edamame are immature soybeans). For men, that may not be a good choice since soy is one of the highest estrogen foods.
- 21 grams of protein per 205 calorie serving isn’t as good as the black bean, but it’s close.
- High in potassium. Second place for this nutrient too, coming in at 998 mg per serving.
- USDA certified organic, which also means non GMO.
- Low carb. 26 grams per serving is 9% of your daily value.
- Low fat. This recipe also measures out at less than 10% fat.
- Super low sodium. 11 mg per serving also rounds down to 0% of daily value.
- Still contains soy. This ingredients label has two items; adzuki beans and soybeans. Since soy is listed second, we know it has less, but that doesn’t tell us exactly how much soy is in it.
- Even higher fiber content. We’re going against the grain of public perception about fiber, but 15 grams per serving is 60% of your daily value. If you eat 2 servings at once, that’s 120% which is overkill in our opinion. The good news though is that it’s natural fiber and not added, like the inulin crap you see in protein bars and cereals.
- Expensive in-store. Both the adzuki spaghetti and the black bean are 7 oz bags (or 8 oz boxes), so keep in mind you aren’t getting a ton of food here. Though given their fiber content, a bag of either flavor provides 2 entree-sized servings, because you really feel full after eating this brand given the high fiber. Assuming your GI tract can handle it, that may be a good thing for those trying to lose weight.
4. Proti Fit protein enriched pasta
Proti Foods is a brand owned by Vital Nature Inc. out of San Antonio. Protidiet is a program based on eating protein rich foods for weight loss purposes.
In those glycemic index measurements reported by the University of Sydney, we mentioned how the lowest glycemic pasta out of the 35 tested happened to be gluten free. Which brand was that? This one.
Though you can’t say it’s the lowest GI rated, as there were less than 10 in their database and none of the others on this list were in it. This is a good one for diabetics but really, we would expect all of the brands on this list to test as low to moderate.
- 20 grams of protein per serving. At 110 calories per serving it seems too good to be true and it kind of is, because each serving is only 31 grams (about 1.1 ounces). So in terms of the energy you get from it, you’re basically getting only half of the typical 2 ounce serving size as seen with the others. Regardless, this brand does offer the highest percentage of calories coming from protein content.
- Very low carb. 6 grams is 2% of daily value.
- No soy or corn. Due to allergies a gluten free, soy free pasta is an important requirement for many. You can check both of those boxes with this brand. Also, it is without xanthan gum.
- High in sodium. 350 mg per serving. If you’re eating double or triple portions (likely given the super small serving size) it would mean you would be getting 700 to 1,050 mg of sodium… and that’s before you even add the sauce!
- Not vegan. Contains eggs.
- Contains monoglycerides. Ingredient label: Protein blend (pea protein isolate, dried egg albumen), water, lentil flour, gum arabic, monoglycerides, bamboo fiber. The nutrition facts label says 0 grams of trans fat. However, the FDA only requires trans fat to be reported from triglycerides and even then, they allow a product to report zero if it contains 0.49 grams or less per serving. But whether triglycerides, diglycerides, or monoglycerides, all 3 of those might contain trans fat after undergoing high heat processing.
- Hard to find. We are not aware of a single store in the Los Angeles area which carries them. Even buying them online is hard since we don’t see them on major retailers like Amazon. Google Shopping yielded zero results. We saw a gastric bypass/bariatic surgery website saw selling them, along with a couple very niche nutrition websites.
- Most expensive. The sources we checked prices for all ran from $16.49 to $16.95 per 7 ounce box.
- Not organic.
5. Ancient Harvest POW pasta
Chances are you are very familiar with this brand, since it’s one of the most widely distributed at grocery stores. But whether you’re talking about your normal supermarket like Kroger or your local Whole Foods, most tend to only carry the “Supergrain” product line.
The Supergrain mac and cheese is well reviewed for taste, but that is only 5 grams per 233 calorie serving (about 2% protein content).
You would think the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta would be better but it’s actually worse; 4 grams per 200 calorie serving.
This is because the first ingredient for both is corn flour. Being how much exponentially cheaper corn is, we are guessing that’s why they use it versus 100% quinoa flour.
Within the past couple of years they came out with their “Protein Power” noodles, which have recently been re-branded as POW! (yes, with the exclamation point). It’s a diverse product lineup; black bean elbows, red lentil rotini, red lentil linguine, green lentil penne, and green lentil spaghetti.
Per serving, their black bean pasta is lowest at 21 grams of protein, while the other four all have 25 grams. Between the red lentil versus the green, we prefer red since many report green lentils in general as potentially being a bigger cause of gas and bloating
On that note, with any bean or lentil products, get some Beano tablets as they work great at preventing gas.
- 14 grams of protein. With each 2 ounce serving having 200 calories, you probably will want two, which will provide a total of 28 grams.
- Simple ingredients. Red lentil flour and organic quinoa flour. That’s it. The linguini and rotini both have the same nutrition facts.
- Very low fat. This is the lowest of them all. At 10 fat calories per 200 calorie serving, it’s only 5% fat content.
- No sodium. The label lists 0 mg. This a huge advantage since almost every pre-made pasta sauce on the market (even the “healthy” brands) are loaded with insane amounts of added salt. You might not be able to control that, but at least by pairing it with no or low sodium gluten free noodles you help balance it out.
- Reasonable fiber content. 7 grams per serving is 26% of daily value. We prefer that over the super-high fiber seen with some of the others.
- Fair price. Still not as cheap as your run of the mill wheat pasta, but very affordable compared to most other gluten free pasta without corn.
- Partly organic. The quinoa is listed as organic, not the lentils. But something organic is better than nothing organic.
- Finding it in-store. In the LA area we never seen this at Whole Foods, Ralph’s, Pavilions, Vons, or the local health food grocers. So plan ahead and order online so you have it handy for when you need it.
On Amazon you can buy the 3 flavor variety pack so you can try it and compare to the others.