America, along with the rest of the world, has maintained a love affair with pasta. Unfortunately, if you’re an individual with diabetes or simply watching your weight, traditional Italian-style pasta is a love you cannot afford. Asian rice noodles, ramen, and soba as well, are all off-limits due to their high carbohydrate content.
As for “low carb” pasta, too many of them simply aren’t. One brand in particular advertised that it contained the same ingredients as traditional pasta, however boasting that it had a special technology that kept the starch from being digested and absorbed. This simply wasn’t true and it lost a class-action lawsuit, paying $8 million to defrauded customers.
However, there is one kind of pasta that is genuinely low in carbohydrates and can fit nicely into the HEAL protocol: shirataki noodles. See this recipe for Pepperoni Noodles, that I published a while back.
Shirataki are traditional Japanese noodles made of a fiber called glucomannan extracted from a root called konjac or konyaku. Sometimes they are labeled “yam noodles.”
Shirataki come in two varieties: Traditional, made entirely of glucomannan, and tofu shirataki, which have a little tofu added to the mix. Traditional shirataki are translucent and somewhat gelatinous in texture. I like them in Asian-style dishes, such as sesame noodles, pho (Vietnamese beef-noodle soup), and pad Thai. Tofu shirataki are white, with a more tender consistency than the traditional style noodle. I use them in many different recipes, from tuna-noodle casserole, macaroni salad, and chicken-noodle soup.
Both varieties of shirataki are very low in both carbs and calories as they’re virtually all fiber and water. For instance, the tofu shirataki has 3 grams of carbs per serving (2 servings per packet) and 2 of those grams are fiber. Traditional shirataki are even lower.
Both varieties come in a number of shapes such as fettuccine, spaghetti, angel hair, and macaroni-shaped tofu shirataki.
Shirataki comes pre-hydrated in a pouch of liquid. This means they need no cooking, but they do need a little preparation. Here’s how: Put a strainer in the sink, snip open your shirataki, and pour them in. You’ll notice the liquid smells fishy. Don’t panic, just rinse them well. If you’re using one of the long-skinny shapes, you may want to snip across them a few times with your kitchen shears as I find them a little unwieldy, but be aware, long noodles are considered good luck in Japan.
Transfer your drained, rinsed noodles to a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, then drain again. Put them back in the bowl and nuke them for another 2-3 minutes, and drain them one more time. Why? Because without this step your noodles will ooze lots of water into your sauce, diluting it, and making you curse. Rinsing once is sufficient if using in soup.
For a super-simple Alfredo, add a pat of butter, a dollop of whipped cream cheese, a tablespoon or two of Parmesan, and a half-clove of crushed garlic. Stir until the butter and cream cheese melt and the sauce becomes creamy. Sprinkle extra Parmesan on top. (See the super simple recipe here).
I’m able to buy shirataki in my local health food store, as well as at the Asian market. Though Miracle Noodles are the most popular brand of traditional shirataki, I prefer House Foods tofu shirataki. Ordering through Amazon.com is an option. Most brands last refrigerated for months, so don’t be afraid to stock up. They will, however, disintegrate into mush if frozen, so freezing shirataki dishes is not recommended.
Shirataki is definitely different than traditional pasta and some will find this disconcerting. My husband originally disliked it, however, I persisted by making his favorite mac-and-cheese and fettuccine alfredo only asking he keep an open mind. Conversion was complete as he now makes these dishes for himself!
All tastes are acquired tastes so it’s worth trying shirataki several times, in several ways, before making up your mind. Enjoy!
(Here’s an article I wrote years ago on the topic of acquired tastes: http://holdthetoast.com/what%20tastes%20good )