Remembering Kevin Moore

Considering The Reliability Of The Dreamfields Pasta ‘Low-Carb’ Claim

Since there are a lot of brand new people who have found my blog and are very interested in learning all the ins and outs of what low-carb living is all about as we begin 2012, I wanted to bring up a subject that rose to the forefront in 2011 thanks to a published study, a Swedish physician and an n=1 blood sugar experiment.

Dreamfields pasta has been out on the market for several years touting itself as a great-tasting “low-carb” alternative to regular. In 2009, I interviewed the president of Dreamfields Foods Mike Crowley on my podcast asking about how they can make a pasta that looks and tastes like the real thing be “low-carb.” He explained to me that it is through a technology that creates a “complex matrix” that makes the carbohydrates become “protected” and undigestible so they do not have the impact on your blood sugar that regular pasta does. It was a curious concept that nobody really ever challenged–until this January 26, 2011 study published in Diabetes Care showed there was no difference in blood sugar response between Dreamfields pasta and regular pasta.

That study led my low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) blogging friend from Sweden named Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt from the “Diet Doctor” blog (who created that “Carb Fiction” graphic above) to conduct his own blood sugar experiment to test the Dreamfields hypothesis on himself. The results were less-than-flattering and he shared all about them in a slide during his lecture on the 2011 Low-Carb Cruise (download the PowerPoint presentation here). Seeing the results that Dr. Eenfeldt saw on himself spurred me to want to test my own blood sugar results on Dreamfields in my own n=1 experiment in May 2011. I couldn’t believe it when my blood sugar tracking after consuming Dreamfields was almost identical to what it was after eating regular pasta. WHOA! This piqued my interest to test several other “low-carb” products like bread and shakes with some rather peculiar results.

A reader of my blog who found me from a nutritionist who he started seeing last year said he had an interesting take on the whole Dreamfields pasta controversy he wanted to share. He used to follow the USDA’s Food Pyramid and exercised like a madman. But his heart was full of plaque that led to 60% blockages in his arteries. He now realizes it’s all those “healthy whole grains” that he ate in “abundance” that led to this inevitability. He confided in me that he worked in the pasta industry for most of his career with experience in everything from product development to manufacturing. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about regarding pasta which used to be his “favorite food.” He decided to write a “fairly technical but easy to understand commentary” with his take on Dreamfields pasta. He says there are a few “performance problems” that are possibly taking place in the making of this “low-carb” pasta that should be of the utmost concern for people who are livin’ la vida low-carb!

Here’s this pasta insider’s take on the “low-carb” claims of Dreamfields:

A lengthy interview with Dreamfields Pasta president Mike Crowley, which is available on-line, failed to adequately answer a single one of the probing questions posed by interviewer Jimmy Moore who cited the personal findings of many “sample of one” individual users who have reported large and unexpected spikes in their blood glucose after a meal of Dreamfields pasta. Some spikes have been fully equivalent to readings obtained by these consumers after a similar serving size of regular pasta. This interviewer was a big fan of Dreamfields pasta, and Dreamfields was in fact one of his sponsors on his low carb blog and website.

Crowley only provided lengthy explanations of their testing that found glycemic index values that indicated that only 5 grams of carbohydrate were consumed by their test participants after consuming a 2 ounce portion. The subjects’ blood glucose readings, which Crowley admitted had been recorded, were not divulged, and he argued against the interviewer’s contention that it should be openly shared. He offered no sound scientific reason in explaining his stand, while at the same time downplaying any relevance or reliability of the readings reported in the “sample of one” cases. He also downplayed the statement by the interviewer that it is the actual blood glucose reading of any concerned consumer that is far more relevant than being told what that meal’s glycemic index was, or was supposed to be.

Rather than try to make sense of Crowley’s answers, what I’ll do here is explore the actual potential for the product to fail to deliver on its claims, since it seems to have done so for a great many concerned users. In brief, yes, this product might perform as promised, for some consumers, when all circumstances in its manufacture and especially in its end preparation by the consumer are perfect, but there is significant potential for the product to fail to do so, either partially or completely, and cause an unexpected spike in the consumer’s blood glucose.

The Dreamfields concept is that a “proprietary blend” of soluble fiber and supplemental protein added to the Durum semolina, the basic ingredient of all good quality pasta, forms a protective barrier around most of the carbohydrate content of the pasta. The four declared ingredients that accomplish this are inulin, wheat gluten, xanthan gum and pectin, in decreasing order of their percentages in the product. Three of these, namely inulin, xanthan gum and pectin are soluble dietary fibers, also known as resistant starches, which are all resistant to digestion by the enzymes in the stomach and the small intestine, and which are all fermented by the bacteria in the colon. The fourth, wheat gluten, merely supplements the wheat gluten that is naturally present in semolina dough and which gives cooked pasta its firmness, or al dente texture, the most basic and desirable characteristic of all good quality pasta.

Durum wheat semolina is typically comprised of 13 percent moisture and 13 percent protein, with carbohydrate comprising the great majority of the remainder. Carbohydrate is present in the form of starch granules, consisting of approximately 20% amylose and 80% amylopectin, which is the most easily digestible form of dietary starch. These granules would ordinarily swell and burst when cooked in boiling water, which would result in very starchy cooking water and soft, mushy pasta. But two proteins that naturally occur in wheat, glutenin and gliadin, combine during the moistening and mixing of pasta dough to form the more complex protein gluten. As the dough is further mixed, this gluten forms a mesh-like matrix that surrounds the individual starch granules. Gluten is a strong protein that stays intact during the cooking process. The matrix that it forms is open, like a net, allowing the starch granules to absorb the cooking water. But the strength of the gluten is what keeps the starch granules from swelling, bursting and ruining the quality of the pasta, while its openness allows the starch to be cooked. It is also this openness that leaves all of the carbohydrate naturally vulnerable to normal digestion.

The additional gluten added to Dreamfields pasta supplements the naturally occurring protein. This is a technique very commonly used to further strengthen pasta that will be used in such applications as long standing restaurant steam tables, or that will be cooked industrially for long periods at very high temperatures in cans containing such ingredients as chicken pieces or broth.

It is the other three ingredients, primarily the inulin, that implement the new concept. All are water-soluble, thus the concept is that after absorbing enough water to be dissolved, they form a protective film around the starch granules. This is very different from the strong water-resistant gluten protein matrix. It is a thin film that is water-soluble.  To effectively protect any starch granule from digestion, it must completely surround that granule with a continuous film and it must adequately survive both the final cooking and digestion process. A very reasonable assumption is that the 5 grams of “unprotected” carbohydrate (starch granules) per serving represent the average probability that such a process cannot possibly be perfect and cannot protect every starch granule from digestion, as well as the fact that some percentage of the starch granules will actually be broken open during chewing and will become very digestible.

A protective film that does not completely coat enough starch granules and/or does not adequately survive the cooking and digestion processes will result in additional grams of unprotected and digestible carbohydrate, grams that the consumer is not adequately warned about.  Remember, the type of starch contained in wheat pasta, most of which is amylopectin, is perhaps the most easily digested of all forms of dietary starch. For this reason, some further explanation of the problem is merited.

In a typical ingredient mixing and dough forming operation, there is tremendous competition for the strictly limited and well defined amount of water that can be added to semolina to produce a dough that is firm enough to hold its shape after it is extruded into shells, elbows, etc. The two proteins that combine to form gluten absorb as much of this water as the starch does, even though there is approximately four times as much starch as there is protein. In the Dreamfields process, extra water must be added to hydrate the added wheat gluten and to dissolve the three soluble fibers. It might even be used to dissolve these ingredients before they are mixed with the semolina (the complete details of the “patent pending” process are not provided), but total and complete dissolving and distribution are both necessary to implement the Dreamfields concept.  The dissolved fiber must adequately cover and surround enough starch granules to protect all but those declared 5 grams of digestible carbs per serving. There is nothing absolute or empirical about this mixing process. It is carefully controlled and quite predictable when it is only semolina and water involved, but it becomes more a game of probabilities when additional water-hungry ingredients are present. Every pasta manufacturer is well aware of this.

Then there is the home cooking step. Since the protective soluble fiber film is water soluble, cooking in boiling water can only weaken or break down the film. Dreamfields does in fact caution against overcooking, but without any adequate discussion of its consequences to the carb-conscious consumer. Exactly when “overcooking” actually does begin will be different in each case, depending on such factors as whether cooking takes place at a fast rolling boil or a gentle boil, whether the pot is covered or uncovered, or whether the location is at higher elevation or at sea level. Furthermore, there is no way to know how rapidly total film breakdown occurs once overcooking does begin, but such breakdown is a very likely cause of the spikes in blood glucose readings seen by concerned carb-conscious users.  Such breakdown is extremely likely, and to a great degree, if leftover pasta is reheated for serving at a later date!

There are still other factors that might affect the protectiveness of the protective film, such as the any damage cause by excessive chewing, the inclusion of additional fat or protein items in the meal, the quantity and pH of water or other liquids consumed with the meal, and the impact on transit time through the small intestine caused by the consumer’s past and subsequent meals, but these are far too complicated for me to speculate on their potential ability to cause additional grams of carbohydrate to be digested.

In the end, if all conditions are perfect, the glycemic index of a 2 ounce portion of Dreamfields pasta might be a significant improvement over that of a 2 ounce serving of regular pasta. But this is the very best possible outcome, and the probability is clearly there for such a meal to surprise the unsuspecting consumer to whom the difference between consuming 5 grams of digestible carbohydrate or unknowingly consuming 10, 20 or even 40 grams may cause serious health consequences! As a type 1 diabetic commented on a chat board, he is better off enjoying a 2 ounce portion of regular pasta, knowing exactly its carb content and how to adjust his medication to deal with it, than playing a dangerous game of chance with Dreamfields pasta, hoping that it will deliver on its claim. This person received many reply postings in total agreement with his statement.

The Dreamfields box should perhaps contain the admonition “If you are a diabetic, this product may be hazardous to your health – use ONLY as directed.”  After all, those who are allergic to the gluten in wheat are warned that all pasta contains wheat!  Those with a concern or a serious intolerance for carbohydrate should be equally warned about a product that might provide as few as 5 grams of digestible carbohydrate per serving… or just might provide as many as 40!

So there you have it! My reader added one extra comment about his column:

The only aspect that Dreamfields or the Dakota Growers, the ones who actually manufacture the pasta, might be able to critique is that they have an undisclosed “patent pending” process for making it, but I know the plant and the commercial equipment line that is used to make it, and the only place I can imagine a patent improving the reliability of the product is the method (or possibly some added apparatus) for premixing and/or pre-hydrating the sensitive items to insure that they work as effectively as possible. But this is done by many pasta plants to insure the effectiveness of such things as added neutraceuticals, calcium, protein (in the form of egg white and/or concentrated grain proteins, for industrial pasta that must be cooked for long periods at 300 F) etc. So there isn’t any space-aged technology involved. I just thought I owed you a “full disclosure” of where they may claim I “don’t know what I’m talking about.”

What do you think about all of this? Are you a happy and healthy Dreamfields pasta fan and find that it does not increase your weight or raise your blood sugar above what a typical 5-gram carbohydrate load would? Or have your eyes been opened to the possibility that this dream of having a great-tasting low-carb pasta was just pie in the sky? Tell us what YOU think about it in the comments section below!

  • Munoz124

    what do you think about the pasta from fibergourmet, it has way better numbers than dreamfields and it taste better, can i say 2 oz is 130 calories, 1 gram of fat, carbs is 42 but it has 18 grams of fiber…i have tryed all of fibergourmets products and they are all delish, didnt find one thing i didnt like. i couldnt even tell that this was not regular pasta…would really like your feedback…..www.fibergourmet.com
    thanks connie

    • Anonymous

      I don’t eat any more of these “fake” pastas anymore…they’re all scams in my book. JERF!

      • Munoz124

        your right, just once or twice a year, like for the holidays, im full italian and going to family gatherings they want pasta, wont except spagetti squash, i figure a way to try and serve them healthy. i crave it very rare, so when i do i figured fibergourmet, but after seeing all the stuff about dreamfields i wonder if they basically are the same…love you blog and podcasts…i have learned alot from you…thanks again

        • Anonymous

          Thanks so much Connie!

      • Goldengodess

        really?? the tofu shiritake is my crutch!

        • Anonymous

          Glad you like them. I don’t eat soy.

          • Goldengodess

            but do you think they are a scam like the dreamfeilds? (and you can get them w/out soy at asian markets too)

            • Anonymous

              Overall, I think shirataki without soy ate probably okay…they are only fiber. But they’re not even close to being texturally what I’d call pasta. Maybe for Asian dishes, but not Italian ones.

    • Anonymous

      I like Fiber Gourmet pasta, especially the high fiber content (I’m diabetic and it didn’t raise my blood sugar) but since going low carb, I no longer eat it.  Pasta is a binge triggering food for me so I’m better off not eating it at all.

      • Anonymous

        None is better IMHO.

  • J Sternfeld

    I’m with you, Jimmy.  I’ve adopted Dr. Davis’ no grains approach.  I don’t miss it most of the time.  And I’m trying to eliminate processed low carb foods that mimic the real thing. 

    When I absolutely have to have noodles (rarely), I use very thin julienned zucchini.  And recently I made some soup with very thin slices of onion that became very noodle-like.  Delicious, but slightly high in carbs. 

    • Anonymous

      Zucchini is awesome!

  • From the Fibergourmet website, an ingredient list: Classic (All Shapes): Durum Semolina Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, Wheat Gluten. Since I’ve read Wheat Belly, no thanks, regardless of the supposed carb count!!

    I have some Dreamfields that I bought last year sitting on my shelf gathering dust. Nuff said. 🙂
    I’m glad to see you re-posting about this, Jimmy, since new people will want to know the real deal on this “stuff”. It’s a shame… I see many times on Facebook where folks are drooling over “getting” to eat pasta still… and at the same time are struggling to lose weight. They just don’t know, and aren’t making the connection. Some can handle it, many many more can’t. I can’t.

    • Anonymous

      It’s better for most of us carb addicts to avoid it. I don’t miss pasta anymore.

  • Anonymous

    It’s definitely something people should be aware of how it impacts THEM.

  • I use julienned zucchini, spaghetti squash, or the Japanese Shirataki noodles when I want or need to add noodles/pasta to something.  I pretty much stay away from commercial low carb versions of high carb foods. Haven’t tried Dream Fields and don’t intend to, but suspect that, for most people, it is pie in the sky.

  • Emfiorella

    Lately I’ve been using Shirataki noodles. They’re great with a hearty meat sauce.

  • Anonymous

    Dreamfields used to be one of my favorite “low carb meals” when I was craving pasta and didn’t want to fall off the wagon. I haven’t had any since I read your n of 1 results. I’ve been yo-yoing between low carb and SAD for too long now, I’m getting on board with Primal and feeling very good about it. The boxes of Dreamfields need to go away!

    • Anonymous

      Good for you Kat! This firm decision to go Primal will be the BEST thing you’ve ever done for your health. Great things are in store for you now. 🙂

  • Tula

    Fascinating discussion. It’s great to hear analysis from an expert and it makes perfect sense. Now I jusst have to figure out what to do with the case of Dreamfields I have hanging around 🙂

    • Anonymous

      I dunno…maybe a food bank or something?

  • Anonymous

    I avoid wheat-based products personally, but I dunno if this product is “better” than regular pasta if it is having the same impact on blood sugar in some people as the high-carb stuff. I guess it goes back to my old adage to find what works for you. If you can eat it and have it not raise blood sugar and/or weight, then GO FOR IT!