I love Italian food in general and pasta in particular. Although I do not suffer from obesity, I’m still careful to monitor what I eat for fear of putting on weight. I was naturally delighted to read recently that pasta, contrary to what people think and say, does not make us fat, researchers have found.
In recent years, pasta has been labelled as stodgy and calorie-laden, even by proponents of low carbohydrate diets. We have even been told to replace spaghetti with spiralized vegetables. But pasta is perfectly fine in moderation, according to US researchers. They looked at 32 studies involving a total of almost 2,500 people who ate an average of 3.3 portions of pasta a week. A portion was half a cup of pasta.
The participants did not gain weight after three months of easting pasta, instead losing more than a pound each. They were all following a low-glycaemic diet – eating foods that release energy slowly. These foods, which include lentils, beans, oats and nuts, help blood sugar levels stabilise and make people feel fuller for longer. They are often labelled ‘low-GI’ which stands for ‘low glycaemic index’.
The researchers said pasta may be also low-GI, which is why eating it did not lead to participants putting on weight. Lead author Dr John Steven Piper from St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said: ‘The study found that pasta doesn’t contribute to weight gain or increases in body fat. In fact analysis actually showed a small weight loss. So, contrary to concerns, perhaps pasta can be part of a healthy diet such as a low GI diet. Pasta has previously been lumped in with other high carbohydrates food such as white bread, but its structure and nutritional composition is different, meanings its sugars are broken down more slowly by the body.’
Jodie Relf, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘People demonise pasta along with bread as they believe these are stodgy foods that cause you to gain weight. This can force them into restrictive low-carb diets which they then fail to stick to. In fact, pasta can be a nutrionous part of a balanced diet as the energy from it is slow-released. The gluten in it is a protein so acts to slow down the normal spike and fall in blood sugar. It means pasta helps people stay full for longer so that they are less likely to snack between meals and over eat.’
Most of the people involved in the study were middle-aged and overweight. One study showed a group of participants lost almost 5lbs each on average. Those involved in the studies lost more than 2 inches from their waistlines.
The review, published in the journal BMJ Open, said: ‘As the role of saturated fat in chronic disease has been called into question, carbohydrates have come under attack in the media, popular books, statements of health advocacy groups and commentaries in leading medical journals.’ The authors add that pasta has even been implicated in the ‘obesity epidemic’. They conclude: ‘Lower GI diets may result in greater body-weight reduction, compared with higher GI diets because lower GI foods have been shown to be more satiating and delay hunger and decrease subsequent energy intake.’
It’s good news for people who love pasta so long as they eat in moderation, which is probably key to everything one eats.