For years, you’ve heard that limiting carbs, like pasta, will help you lose weight. So news of a study linking pasta consumption to a lower body mass index (BMI) probably comes as a surprise.
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The researchers looked at pasta consumption among more than 23,000 people in Italy. They measured participants’ body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. Then they looked at which participants were overweight or obese. The result: Those who ate more pasta had fewer weight problems.
But before you start eating pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner, consider four things:
1. The diet
The study participants who had lower BMIs and less obesity ate pasta as part of a Mediterranean diet. This diet, linked to lower risks of stroke, heart attack and brain aging, includes foods that are high in complex carbs and fiber. That means legumes, rice and cereals — like pasta — in moderate amounts.
2. The portions
Participants consumed reasonable portions of pasta — not the enormous portions we’re used to in America. So don’t think eating four cups of pasta with a high-calorie, high-fat sauce at one sitting won’t impact your weight. It will.
3. The sauces
The sauces you add to your pasta also matter. Choosing a tomato-based or olive oil sauce is always better for your BMI than choosing a cheese-based Alfredo sauce.
4. The pasta
Although study participants probably ate traditional pasta, plenty of other studies show that eating more refined carbs, like white pasta, increases your weight and risk of disease. Choosing 100 percent whole-grain pastas, whether with gluten or gluten-free, will delay gastric emptying because the fiber helps keep you fuller, longer.
Ironically, today, the researchers note that Italians are eating more red meat, fats, dairy products and simple sugars. Pasta consumption and adherence to a Mediterranean diet has declined as low-carb, high-protein diets gained favor in the fight against obesity.
What does this mean for you? If you follow a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, and olive oil, nuts and other healthy fats most of the time — and, if you wish, have a little whole-grain pasta some of the time — you’ll most likely be able to maintain a healthy weight.
Even better: Try what many of my patients are doing. They’ve veered away from grain-based pasta to focus more on bean-based pasta, spiralized zucchini, and spaghetti squash.