If you’ve spent years snubbing pasta on account of your waistline, now might be the time to forgive and forget as new studies show the Italian favourite may not be as ‘fattening’ as first presumed.
If you were compiling a list of the best weight-loss foods to add to your diet, you’d be forgiven for omitting pasta. We’re forever being told that in order to shed pounds, we need to be cutting right back on complex carbohydrates. However, a new study from Italy (where else!) has suggested that pasta is not fattening and could actually help to reduce the likelihood of obesity.
Much to the delight of spaghetti lovers everywhere, the Neuromed Institute research - published in the Nature & Diabetes Journal - concluded that as part of a healthy, balanced diet (this is a crucial detail) we can enjoy pasta without fearing for our waistlines.
George Pounis, who co-authored the report, commented: “We have seen that consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight, rather the opposite. "Our data show that enjoying pasta according to individuals' needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference and better waist-hip ratio.”
What makes pasta healthy?
While the aforementioned research shouldn’t be held as gospel, it underlines the point that you don’t need to remove pasta from your diet if you’re looking to lose weight.
Here are a few of the benefits of eating pasta:
It provides glucose, which fuels your muscles and brain.
Pasta provides a slow release of energy, whereas sugary foods, for example, give you a quick fix and a more dramatic crash.
According to the US National Pasta Association, enriched versions of the food can be a great source of folic acid, which is particularly important for pregnant women.
Pasta has a low GI (30 to 60), although this increases the more it is cooked. There’s a top tip! A low GI means you digest the food more slowly, so you feel full for longer, thus reducing the need to get more calories on board (in theory).
As this study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows, it’s calories that result in weight gain, regardless of whether they’ve come from carbs, proteins or fats. Granted, this isn’t strictly a benefit, but it further dispels the myth that carbs are evil.
How much pasta are you recommended to eat?
At risk of being accused of stating the obvious; if you eat lots and lots of pasta and little else - especially the heavily-processed stuff - there’s a good chance you will put on weight.The Neuromed Institute study clearly stated that pasta can be an effective weight-loss food IF eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet.Speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Aseem Malhotra, advisor to the National Obesity Forum, said that the people who took part in the study ate around 50g to 60g of pasta a day, which is a lot less than you’d expect to find in a main meal.That said, NHS Choices suggests that starchy foods - which includes pasta - should make up just over one-third of your daily food intake.
Why is wholegrain pasta so popular?
The UK consumes 2.5kg of pasta per capita - by comparison Italy consumes 25.3kg per capita and the US 8.8kg per capita - so it’s already an important part of many of our diets. Again, it’s worth stressing that not all forms of pasta are the same.When buying pasta (as with any food) you should focus on quality. The best varieties of pasta contain high amounts of protein and fibre. Check the labels and steer clear of varieties that have added ingredients. Also don't be fooled by seemingly healthy varieties of spinach and tomato pastas. They often contain very little actual veg - certainly not enough to meet one of your recommended five-a-day - and are often white pasta with food dye in to give them a vibrant colour.
As we’ve already touched on, expert nutritionists will tend to steer you towards wholegrain pasta, rather than standard white versions.
According to SELF Nutrition Data, 100g of cooked wholewheat spaghetti contains 124 calories, 27g of carbohydrate and 5g of protein.
By contrast, the same source tells us that 100g of standard white spaghetti contains 158 calories, 31g of carbohydrate and 6g of protein.
As you can see, the lower calorie count works in the favour of brown pasta and it’s also worth noting that wholegrain pastas offer more than twice as much dietary fibre than white variations.
What are healthy alternatives to pasta?
DW Fitness Clubs personal trainer and expert nutritionist, Carly Tierney suggests:
Rice pasta made with brown rice - “This is a good option for those following a gluten-free diet or for those who have a sensitive stomach. Rice versions tend to be easier to digest.”
Quinoa pasta -“This is also great for those who are gluten-free. It has a nutty taste and texture and is jam packed with nutrients.”
Bean pasta - “This is made using beans, lentils or chickpeas. This pasta will keep you feeling full for longer and actually tastes really good and not at all ‘beany’ as you may expect.”