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Dreamfields Pasta - Truly Low-Carb?

Is Dreamfields Really Low in Carbs?

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Updated June 03, 2014

Spaghetti with pesto
Matthew O'Shea/Photodisc/Getty Images
Dreamfields brand of pasta claims to have a lower impact on blood sugar than regular pasta. What do we know about Dreamfields pasta? Is it safe for diabetics and people on low-carb diets? Various sources disagree, so I've tried to sort it out.

What is Dreamfields Pasta?

Dreamfields is a brand of pasta that comes in many forms (spaghetti, lasagna, elbows, etc). Like traditional pasta, it is made from semolina wheat, but claims to have a lower glycemic impact through a process that lowers the availability of the carbohydrate during digestion.

Dreamfields' Claims

Dreamfields product packaging states that most of the carbohydrate in their pasta is "protected" -- that it will not break down into glucose and raise blood sugar. For example, their spaghetti package says that there are 41 grams of total carbohydrate in a 2 oz serving, 5 of which are fiber, but only 5 of which are "digestible carbs." The other 31 grams are the "protected carbs." It also says it has been "clinically tested to establish digestible carbohydrate levels." This "protection" is obtained through a patented process.

Dr. Bryan Tungland, the biochemist who helped develop the process Dreamfields uses, spoke with me in detail about the process used to test the pasta on real people. The testing he described is extensive -- each subject is very carefully screened with medical histories and blood tests, including a glucose tolerance test on each person. They are then given the food tests -- either the Dreamfields pasta or a white bread "control" -- on several mornings before eating anything else. The food they eat contains 25 grams of available carbohydrate, and their blood glucose is tested every 15 minutes. Then, the blood glucose curves when they ate the bread are compared to when they ate the pasta. I was told many other details, designed for very careful control.

Some issues should be noted at this point. First, many of Dreamfields' subjects came from the local university, which may mean that as a group they are younger than the average for people on low-carb diets. Also, the serving size in the testing is just half of the 50 grams usually used to test the glycemic index of a carbohydrate. Third, the studies Dreamfields does are unpublished, so they are not peer-reviewed, and scientists aren't able to try to replicate methods and compare data.

One of the main reasons the subjects were screened so carefully is that people with any type of glucose tolerance issues, such as diabetes and prediabetes, will react much more inconsistently to a food, both when comparing to other people and when comparing to themselves on different days. This is why most foods marketed to people on low-carb diets (e.g. Atkins Nutritionals products) are not tested on people with glucose disorders. This can be frustrating for those people (e.g. diabetics, prediabetics, insulin resistant, etc.), because it doesn't necessarily tell them how they will respond to that food.

The Other Side

In the Jan 2011 issue of the journal Diabetes Care, there is a brief report of a study done at the U. of Minnesota/U. of Minn VA Medical Center. In that study, the researchers tested the glycemic response of ten people to 50 grams of carb from both Dreamfields and traditional pastas in a similar manner to the Dreamfields studies. The pasta was cooked according to the directions on the Dreamfields packaging. There was no diabetes or pre-diabetes in the subjects of this study, although as a group they were likely older than their counterparts at Dreamfields (I am inferring ages from statements by both lead scientists). If you look at the graphs (five subjects on each graph), you will see that the glucose response curves for the two types of pasta look extremely similar for all ten people, meaning that people had essentially the same blood sugar response to Dreamfields as to regular pasta.

There have also been more anecdotal reports. Over the years I've received many in email and on my Forum, such as this thread. Some people report having the expected small blood glucose response from Dreamfields products, while others have more dramatic responses similar to the Diabetes Care study. Swedish physician Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt reported in his blog that he had a high blood sugar response to a double portion of Dreamfields pasta.

How can we explain these dramatic differences? Unfortunately, we don't have the information to entirely explain the differences in the lab studies. People cooking at home are going to cook in lots of varied ways, which could explain some of those reports. Also, home blood glucose meters aren't as accurate as lab tests. However, I think it's clear that at the very least, people should not assume that the carbs are completely "protected" from their particular digestive systems, and that responses to this pasta vary substantially. (Note that responses to any food vary.)

My Recommendations for Using Dreamfields Pasta

At this point in what I know about these products, I would make the following recommendations:
  1. Verify that your particular body responds well to the product. Check your blood glucose, or watch carefully for signs that your low-carb diet is being interfered with (carb cravings, slow-down in weight loss, etc).

  2. Keep to the serving size listed on the box.

  3. Make sure you cook the pasta "al dente"! This is very important -- ANY pasta will be more glycemic if it is cooked beyond the al dente stage. Find out what al dente means.

  4. Don't cook Dreamfields pasta with acidic ingredients, such as tomato sauce or vinaigrette. Acid breaks down the "protective matrix" in the pasta. While it's OK to put an acidic sauce on the pasta, and to eat it right away, don't store the extra with the sauce. (In fact, the Dreamfields Web site says it's best not to store it at all after cooking -- try to cook only as much as you will eat in one meal.)

  5. Remember, the sauce counts! In particular, tomato-based sauces can be quite carby -- a cup of plain tomato sauce has about 18 grams of carbohydrate.

Sources:

Nuttall, FQ et al. Glycemic Response to Ingested Dreamfields Pasta Compared With Traditional Pasta. Diabetes Care 34(2) 2011 e17-18.

Nuttall, FQ. Personal communication.

Tungland, Bryan. Personal communication.

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