The short answer
Yes, gluten-free pasta does contain carbohydrates. In fact, most gluten-free pasta has a similar amount of carbohydrates as regular wheat pasta. The main difference is that gluten-free pasta is made without wheat.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are one of the main nutrients found in food. The three main types of carbohydrates are:
- Sugars – Such as glucose, fructose, lactose
- Starches – Found in foods like pasta, bread, potatoes
- Fiber – Found in plant foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains
During digestion, carbs break down into simple sugars, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The main simple sugar is glucose, which provides energy for cells throughout the body.
Carbs are the main source of energy for the body and brain. For this reason, they are an essential part of a balanced diet.
However, not all carbs are created equal. Some provide more nutrients than others. Fiber-rich complex carbs are healthier than refined and sugary carbs.
Do gluten-free foods contain carbs?
Yes, most gluten-free substitute foods, including pasta, bread, cookies and cereals contain carbohydrates.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s what gives bread and pasta their chewy texture.
A gluten-free diet completely avoids these grains. Instead, it relies on naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
However, for people who need to follow a gluten-free diet, substitute gluten-free products like pasta, bread and baked goods are widely available. These are made by swapping wheat flour for other starch-based flours.
Common gluten-free flours include:
- Rice flour
- Corn flour
- Potato starch
- Tapioca flour
- Chickpea flour
- Almond flour
These flours are all naturally free of gluten. However, they are still carbohydrate-based and affect blood sugar similarly to wheat flour.
This means gluten-free products made with these alternative flours still contain a significant amount of digestible carbs.
Carb content of gluten-free pasta
Most gluten-free pasta varieties contain about 25–45 grams of total carbs per cooked cup (140 grams) (1, 2).
This carb count includes:
- Starch (digestible carbs): 23–43 grams
- Fiber (indigestible carbs): 2–4 grams
- Sugars: 0–1 grams
Therefore, the digestible carb content is similar to regular wheat pasta, which provides around 22–43 grams of carbs per cooked cup (2).
However, gluten-free pasta is lower in fiber than whole wheat pasta varieties.
Here’s how some popular gluten-free pasta compares per 1-cup cooked serving:
|Type of pasta
|Gluten-free penne (3)
As you can see, gluten-free pasta is not low-carb. It has a similar carbohydrate content as regular pasta.
However, keep in mind that the carb content can vary between brands. Always check labels for details.
Carb quality of gluten-free pasta
Not only does gluten-free pasta contain a similar amount of carbs to regular pasta, but the carb quality is also comparable.
Gluten-free pasta is made by swapping wheat flour for alternate flours and starches like rice, potatoes, tapioca and corn.
Though gluten-free pasta is lacking the protein and some micronutrients found in whole wheat pasta, the carbs are still all starch and have a high glycemic index.
This means the glucose from gluten-free pasta is rapidly absorbed and can lead to spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. This effect is even more pronounced if you eat gluten-free pasta made with refined flours (4).
Plus, gluten-free pasta is typically lower in fiber compared to whole wheat varieties. The fiber content ranges from about 1–4 grams per serving, depending on the brand (1, 2).
Higher fiber intakes from foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables are associated with better digestive health and more stable blood sugar control (5).
Therefore, gluten-free pasta made with refined flour is considered a high glycemic, low-fiber carb source.
So what does this mean for your health?
First, gluten-free pasta can be enjoyed in moderation by most healthy people. It provides a source of carbohydrate fuel to power your muscles and brain.
However, people with diabetes or prediabetes should minimize refined carbs, including gluten-free pasta. The rapid spikes in blood sugar can be problematic.
Choosing high fiber, whole food carbs like beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits and whole grains will provide more nutrients and steady energy.
Second, if you follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons like celiac disease, you may benefit from also maximizing nutrient density with whole, minimally processed foods.
Gluten-free junk foods like pasta, pizza and cookies are convenient, but lower in fiber and micronutrients than fresh, whole foods.
Third, if you are limiting gluten for perceived health benefits, be aware that gluten-free foods are not necessarily healthier overall. They still affect your blood sugar and insulin levels like regular carbs.
That said, some people feel better on a gluten-free diet. Just focus on incorporating healthy carb choices, not relying on processed gluten-free items.
Tips for eating gluten-free pasta
Here are some ways to enjoy gluten-free pasta as part of a healthy diet:
- Stick to 1/2–1 cup portion sizes to limit calorie and carb intake.
- Enjoy gluten-free pasta only occasionally if you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome risk factors.
- Pick a bean-based pasta for more protein and fiber.
- Combine gluten-free pasta with lots of vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes or spinach.
- Add healthy fats like olive oil or avocado to increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Include a lean protein source like chicken breast, fish or tofu.
- Choose whole-grain varieties that include veggies like lentils or quinoa for more fiber and nutrients.
- Compare brands and choose one with more fiber and protein.
- Buy 100% whole-grain blends to minimize blood sugar spikes.
- Pair with a salad and lean protein to balance out your meal.
The bottom line
Gluten-free pasta contains a similar amount of carbohydrates as regular wheat pasta, providing around 25-45 grams of digestible carbs per cooked cup.
Though gluten-free pasta lacks gluten, it is still a refined, high glycemic food. Enjoy gluten-free pasta in moderation as part of an overall healthy, whole foods diet.
Choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and seeds as your primary carb sources for the best health outcomes.