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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Green banana pasta: it could be what's for dinner for people with celiac disease.
Researchers from Brazil found most people with and without the intestinal condition - which interferes with the body's ability to process certain grains - liked the taste and texture of the alternative dinner option.
In people with celiac disease, which includes about one percent of Americans, the immune system reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating foods with gluten damages the small intestine and keeps it from absorbing nutrients.
The only treatment for celiac disease is to go on a strict gluten-free diet, which means avoiding traditional breads, cereals and pastas.
Alternatively, pastas made with rice, corn or quinoa flours are safe options for people with celiac disease or other types of gluten intolerance.
But when cooked, those products tend to lose the elasticity of traditional pasta. And, they can cost a lot more.
"The challenge with gluten-free pastas is that they don't cook similarly to wheat pasta, they don't hold well," said Cynthia Kupper, a dietician and director of the Gluten Intolerance Group, a non-profit association that supports people with gluten intolerance.
She said she wouldn't serve those options at a dinner party. "It's going to either be brick-hard or mush by the time it's served. The nutritional quality is not that great either in most of these pastas."
Brazilian researchers wanted to see if pasta made with green banana flour - a cheap and easily produced alternative, they say - might be another possibility.
Raquel Botelho, a nutritionist from the University of Brasilia, and her colleagues used a test pasta made out of flour from dried ground bananas, egg whites, water and guar and xanthan gums, which add firmness and elasticity.
They fed the creation to 25 taste-testers with celiac disease and another 50 without the condition. The researchers also gave the non-celiac group a whole wheat pasta option, made from wheat flour and eggs, as a comparison meal.
More than four out of five celiac participants rated the green banana pasta as a six or higher on a nine-point scale.
That figure was lower for people who weren't gluten intolerant - about 60 percent gave the pasta a good rating. But they rated the green banana pasta the same as whole wheat pasta for flavor, aroma and appearance and liked the texture of the banana dish better, the research team reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And the banana product had fewer calories and less fat per serving than the whole wheat version.
Botelho said she and her colleagues are optimistic about the use of green banana flour outside of studies.
"Green banana has bioactive compounds and resistant starch that are good for intestine health. Usually celiac patients develop intestine problems if they don't follow the correct diet," she told Reuters Health in an email.
What's more, Botelho added, "We can use green banana flour to produce other products for celiac patients like bread, biscuits, pizza dough."
Kupper, who wasn't involved in the new study, said she was "intrigued" by the idea of using green banana flour to make gluten-free pasta.
"The nutritional value looks as good… or better than wheat-based products," she told Reuters Health, adding that she'd still like to see more nutritional tests done, such as on the glycemic index of the pasta.
"What will be interesting to see is if they can take this out of the lab," and get a small company to try making it, Kupper said. "I think it's something that we need to explore."
SOURCE: bit.ly/LQbRrd Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online June 21, 2012.