As I browse through grocery stores both locally and when traveling, It is beyond obvious the number of gluten free foods, particularly gluten free pasta alternatives, are on the rise. Why is this happening? Is it just some new craze?
In the world of science, we are starting to draw correlations between these reactions and gluten-containing foods. The overwhelming increase in the number of people with gluten sensitivity may have multiple causes with one of the most prominent relating to the way wheat is grown in this country using chemicals such as glyphosate.
What the heck is Glyphosate?
Released by the agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto in 1970, glyphosate is a herbicide chemical sold under the name Roundup. Yes, it is the same stuff you spray all over your garden to prevent the overgrowth of weeds. Interestingly, in addition to being the worlds largest producer of Roundup, Monsanto is also the same company that introduced and continues to be the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds. Needless to say, we won’t be sending Monsanto a holiday card.
Since its release, the rise in the use of Roundup has grown exponentially in the farming industry. Agriculturally, it is the most widely used herbicide in the United States.(1) Not only is it used to prevent and kill weeds, but it is also used as a pre-harvest crop desiccant. This means farmers spread Roundup over their fields at various times while growing crops including shortly before harvest, which is likely the most controversial issue. A couple of the most commonly discussed reasons why it is used right before harvest include:
It leads to more even ripening, allowing harvesting and replanting to be done earlier
it reduces the number of weeds in the field which can be taxing and damaging on farm equipment
While it would be preferred that glyphosate was not used at all, as already mentioned, one major concern is how it is sometimes used right before harvest. The closer the chemical is used before harvest, the more likely it will found in higher concentration on our plate. This practice, amongst many others, has led to the use of glyphosate becoming an extremely hot topic. A few recent developments concerning the use of glyphosate include:
In 2013 Austria banned the use of glyphosate
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer ruled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” in 2015
The state of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer in July of 2017. The official listing on the OEHHA from the CA.gov website can be found here.
Clearly, there is something to be said about having this stuff in our food. We likely need more research to determine the exact cause and effect on our health, but this should be more than enough to get your wheels turning.
Personally, I don’t need to wait for research to tell me that a foreign, man-made chemical hanging out in my body is likely not the best thing if I’m pursuing optimal health, energy, and athletic performance. If you’d like to see for yourself how much glyphosate is present in some of our favorite, albeit processed foods from Kashi to Cheerios, an excellent analysis can be found here.
What is even more troubling is that not only is glyphosate use rising, but the volume used per a crop and during any given individual application of the chemical, has risen significantly in recent years. So, not only is glyphosate ending up in a greater variety of foods, it is appearing in higher concentrations.
Closer analysis of practices such as this and injecting animals with hormones or antibiotics is likely to provide guidance in piecing together why there were few gluten or dairy allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances 40-60 years ago and today the numbers are skyrocketing. It is also logical as to why some of the world has discussed banning the import of genetically modified, roundup-laced crops and hormone filled meats of the United States.
Back to Gluten Free Pasta Alternatives
Think of how many of us have lived our whole lives consuming chemically treated wheat for just about every meal: cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, crackers or pretzels for a snack, pasta and rolls for dinner, and so on. For this reason, the concept of switching to gluten free foods can be daunting.
The last 30 years have been by far some of the worst in terms of the number of chemicals we are using on crops such as wheat, corn, and soy. So, when it comes to an athlete trying to fuel up with one of their favorite foods the night before or day of competition, many athletes can be left frustrated, disappointed, or downright confused why they suddenly feel sluggish, bloated, fatigued, or less than optimal.
Almost everyone loves pasta and it can be a great choice to help fuel performance for the right individual when served in the right portion and prepared the right way. So, in an effort to keep our athletes happy and feeling well while enjoying one of their favorite foods, we’re going to explore the best gluten free pasta alternatives.
But first, I’d like to share two brief stories to drive this point home.
Story #1 My Personal Experience
Growing up with two Italian grandparents who came over to this country in 1948, I was exposed to the best home-cooked meals a kid could ask for. I was often lucky enough to sit alongside my grandparents as they made meals for our family. My Nonno and Nonna made everything from scratch, pasta, bread, desserts etc, they would literally spend the entire day in the kitchen. Although they never actually used recipes, they knew by heart the exact measurements and American brand name products necessary to get the job done.
After being in this country for over 40+ years and having used the same American company for flour the entire time, 15-20 years ago my grandmother started saying to me, “Mamma Mia! I don’t know what is wrong with this flour but it’s just not the same. The texture is different from what it has always been, I can barely knead this bread anymore!” At the time I did not think much of the situation. Looking back, I have a strong feeling this was the end result of my grandmother’s first experience with genetically modified, chemically treated American wheat.
Let’s cut to story #2
Earlier in my career, I worked in a liver transplant clinic at a world-renowned hospital. I had patients coming to me from all over the country hoping to receive a new liver and I was responsible for providing these patients with pre and post liver transplant nutrition education.
At the time, I remember thinking it was so odd that many of my patients needing a new liver were hard working, highly active farmers! Well, hindsight is 20/20. After receiving extensive education in Functional Medicine and completing advanced practice modules in detoxification, I now understand that the chronic daily exposure to agriculture-related chemicals was likely the culprit for my patient’s liver failure.
Why Gluten Free Might Be The Way To Be
Anyway, I digress. If you have a feeling that you may have a gluten sensitivity or food intolerance to wheat but you’re not quite sure, consider completely removing it from your diet for 2 weeks. Follow a strict 2 weeks of using gluten free foods only, then monitor to see if you notice an improvement in any of your daily symptoms. Please keep in mind that symptoms of wheat or gluten intolerance are typically not gut related. While some individuals certainly do experience bloating, cramping and stomach pain after consumption, that is actually not what most people experience! Common post-meal symptoms of a wheat or gluten sensitivity include fatigue, throat clearing, nasal congestion or post-nasal drip, diarrhea, joint pain, skin changes, headaches, and reflux.
Perhaps you are already aware that you have a gluten sensitivity or have slowly picked up that you may have a food intolerance with wheat. You may likely then be on the hunt for alternative food products, mainly your beloved pasta. Great. You’ve come to the right place.
Life is not over simply because your body does not take well to a certain component of food. Here I will review my favorite gluten free/wheat free pasta alternatives. If this Italian can enjoy a non-traditional pasta, you can too!
ProTip: If a soft and mushy texture turns you off, ALWAYS undercook gluten free pasta by 2-4 minutes compared to what the directions on the box suggest. Al dente is better for your blood sugar anyway!
Here are the winners
This deliciously nutrient-dense pasta only contains ONE ingredient: lentils! My favorite Tolerant Pasta is the green lentil pasta but there are many more options to choose from such as black bean, red lentil, and chickpea. The best part? a 3 oz serving contains 18g protein and 28% of the Recommended Daily Intake of iron.
Looking for a little more protein? Banza is perfect for the athlete who loves pasta and especially for the athlete who leads an entirely plant-based diet. One 3 oz serving of Banza provides 25g of protein and 18g of fiber, that’s 53% of the Recommended Daily Intake for Fiber, a nutrient most American’s lack in their diet!
Tinkyada is a rice-based, gluten free past that contains only 3 ingredients, brown rice, rice bran, and water. This brand is one of my favorites first because it is affordable and usually widely available. Furthermore, if cooked properly, you will experience a nice chewy texture, very similar to traditional wheat-based pastas. This pasta is the best option for those who are texture sensitive. If you are new to gluten free pasta, I would start with Tinkyada and work your way around to the rest.
Last but not least, my favorite gluten free pasta of all time, Capellos! This one even had my Italian grandparents fooled. These fresh, hand-crafted noodles can be found in the freezer section of your specialty grocery store. The taste and texture is better than most others on the market. Capellos is also grain free for those who feel best taking more of a Paleo approach.
In summary, no matter what allergies, sensitivities, or food intolerance you may be in the process of navigating, in today’s age there is a substitute or replacement for everything. From gluten free menus often being available at restaurants to gluten free options being provided in schools, eating a gluten free lifestyle is easier than ever. All it takes is a little guidance from your dietitian or healthcare professional and bit of self-dedication to get started.
Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!
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