By Jill Neimark
So, you want some noodles, but you have celiac, or you’re gluten intolerant. You could reach for a gluten-free pasta made from corn or rice—but they’re high in carbohydrates, and research shows they can cause blood sugar to leap even higher than wheat-based noodles.
Bean pastas to the rescue. They’re higher in protein than wheat-based noodles (exactly how much varies by brand), and bean pastas, like beans themselves, contain high amounts of resistant starch. This special type of starch, which isn’t fully broken down by the body, is readily metabolized by bacteria in our large intestine and helps keep our colons healthy, according to nutritionist Guy Crosby.
Bean pastas also have more fiber than their wheat-based cousins. Fiber helps steady your blood sugar, and promotes a feeling of fullness, so you feel satisfied on fewer calories.
Of course, the most important question is: How do they taste? And can they actually mimic a good old-fashioned marinara-drenched plate of linguine? Do they hold up to boiling, baking, and tossing in salads? I still remember a corn-based pasta that melted into a pile of mush in my saucepan.
Only one way to find out, so I brought home several brands—all certified gluten-free—and spent a week sampling various pastas in an array of dishes (tough job, eating pasta for a living, but someone has to do it). Here are my favorites, and what you need to know about each one:
This brand, made from certified non-GMO chickpeas, was my favorite. The color almost perfectly mimics wheat pasta, and the variety of shapes is fun—from linguine to angel hair, shells, rotini, ziti, penne, elbows, wheels and cavatappi. I tried it in a few different recipes, including baked ziti and a delicious pumpkin mac and cheese, and it held its shape and texture well. The only catch: Since Banza has pea protein, tapioca and xanthan gum along with chickpeas, it may not work for people with food sensitivities.
Nutritionals: Average of 190 calories, 14g protein and 8g fiber per 2-oz. serving.
This brand features a wide selection of pastas made from red and green lentils as well as chickpeas. The lentil pastas held up better to cooking than the chickpea varieties (which also have rice added in, and tasted slightly mealy), and though they don’t quite replicate the mouthfeel of wheat-based pasta, they’re close enough. Plus, Tolerant now offers lentil varieties with vegetable powders mixed in, such as kale and beet, boosting the antioxidant and nutrient profile. Plus, the pastas are made without potential allergens like tapioca and xanthan gum. One big issue is whether you like color in your noodles. If your family balks at any noodles that stray from the traditional creamy hue of semolina, these may be a no go. But if it isn’t a problem, you could even try matching ingredients to the noodles; for example, red lentils pair well with carrots, pumpkin, squash and cheese, while green lentils go well with scallions, broccoli, or asparagus.
Nutritionals: Average of 310 calories, 21g protein and 11g fiber per 3-oz. serving
Ancient Harvest is known for its quinoa- and corn-based pastas, and its POW! line adds beans and brown rice to the quinoa, offering everything from black bean elbows to green lentil penne and spaghetti, red lentil rotini and linguine, as well as packaged mac and cheese. The pastas are tasty and slightly cheaper than pure bean-based pastas. A favorite of mine are the black bean elbows, unique to this brand. They made a fantastic addition to a root vegetable minestrone I made with kale, butternut squash, zucchini, herbs, and vegetable broth—the black beans add a hearty flavor.
Nutritionals: Average of 190 calories, 11g protein and 7g fiber per 2-oz. serving
4. Modern Table
This pasta, made from red lentil flour, white rice and pea protein, comes in three shapes: elbows, rotini and penne. Though they offer plain noodles, what sets this brand apart are the spices, cheeses and veggies in their meal kits: Creamy Garlic & Herb, Cheddar Broccoli, Creamy Alfredo, Creamy Marinara, Sundried Tomato Basil. On their own or with the sauces, these noodles have great texture and hold up well to cooking.
Nutritionals: Average of 190-330 calories, 20g protein and 6g fiber per 3.5-oz. serving