For a pasta lover following a gluten-free diet, there are a variety of options for the noodles you crave. Gluten-free pastas are made from rice, corn, quinoa or other grains. They don't contain any of the protein gluten, which is the biggest benefit for those with a gluten intolerance. The other nutrient content of gluten-free pasta varies depending on its ingredients.
Gluten is the protein found in the grains wheat, rye, barley, and triticale, which is a cross between rye and wheat. Most pasta is made using high-gluten wheat flours, such as semolina or durum. To make gluten-free pasta, other gluten-free grains, such as rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and corn, are used to achieve the qualities and texture of pasta. It's important to follow the package directions when cooking gluten-free pasta. Overcooking or adding salt or oil when they aren't called for often causes the pasta to become mushy.
The name gluten-free pasta gives away the biggest benefit -- it doesn't contain gluten. If you have a gluten intolerance, celiac disease or wheat allergy, eating gluten causes side effects, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, headache, fatigue or anemia, according to The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. Even if you don't experience any overt symptoms from eating gluten, you may damage your intestines and experience health complications over time. Choosing gluten-free pasta allows you to enjoy a variety of food options without sacrificing your health.
Gluten-free pastas vary in nutrient content depending on the grains used to make them, but certain types are a good source of amino acids. A study published in the journal "Plant Foods for Human Nutrition" in October 2010 noted that gluten-free pasta made with the whole grains quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat is higher in protein than gluten-free pasta made from refined starches, such as white rice flour. Your body needs essential amino acids to maintain the health of your bones, muscles and skin.
Gluten-free pasta made with whole grains is also higher in minerals, folic acid and fiber than pasta made from refined flours. However, gluten-free pasta is rarely fortified with nutrients. If you've recently been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance or frequently eat gluten even though you are gluten intolerant, you may not be absorbing nutrients as well as you should. If you have trouble absorbing nutrients, you may experience nutritional deficiencies if you eat foods that have low vitamin and mineral content. Whenever possible, choose gluten-free pasta made from whole grains to maximize the nutrient content.
- MayoClinic.com: Gluten-Free Diet: What's Allowed, What's Not
- The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: Learn About the Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: Start on a Gluten-Free Diet
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: Functional Properties of a Gluten-Free Pasta Produced from Amaranth, Quinoa and Buckwheat
- The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: What Common Nutrient Deficiencies Might an Adult Experience Prior to Diagnosis?
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.