Does pasta have a place in a weight-loss diet?

A high-carbohydrate diet that includes pasta is just as effective for weight loss as a low-carbohydrate, pasta-free diet, one study says.

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Fresh pasta is served with garlic, olive oil and basil.

Fresh pasta is served with garlic, olive oil and basil.

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Pasta is typically viewed as a food that packs on pounds and, more often than not, is relegated to the “do not eat” list.

However, research findings suggest that eating pasta is actually linked to a lower body mass index (BMI), a smaller waist measurement, and a smaller waist-to-hip ratio. A high waist-to-hip ratio (greater than 0.86 for women, greater than 1.0 for men) is linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Pasta’s perception problem

The chief complaint leveled against pasta is its high carbohydrate content. But a study comparing weight loss among 811 overweight adults, who were following one of four reduced-calorie diets containing four levels of carbohydrates (65%, 55%, 45% or 35%) found that weight loss was similar among all four groups. That suggests that a high-carbohydrate diet that includes pasta is just as effective for weight loss as a low-carbohydrate, pasta-free diet.

In addition, a recent analysis of 29 randomized clinical trials found that including pasta, as part of a low-glycemic-index diet, was associated with lower body weight and BMI, compared to higher glycemic-index diets. Pasta itself has a fairly low glycemic index (between 33 and 61). Compare that to boiled potatoes, which have an average GI of 78.

Pasta is part of a healthy diet

Pasta can be found in the Mediterranean Diet, which studies suggest can aid weight loss as well as a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet, or the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association.

“Pasta can be a part of a balanced meal and healthy eating pattern,” says Rahaf Al Bochi R.D.N., L.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It provides a great source of energy, B vitamins, and fiber, if the pasta is whole grain.”

Keeping it healthy

Whether you choose spaghetti, spirals, penne, or lasagna, the ingredients for traditional pastas are the same — semolina flour and water. It’s not the pasta, but your choice of toppings that can contribute to weight gain. Think fettuccini alfredo, spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna with meat and cheese, or pasta with Italian sausage. It’s not the pasta that you need to keep it check; it’s the calorie-laden extras.

Pasta is a fat-free, low-sodium food that can fit in almost any weight management plan. One-half cup of cooked pasta provides about 100 calories.

To keep it healthy, opt for tomato-based sauces with vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, squash, carrots, or chopped asparagus (especially tasty when roasted) and season with basil, oregano, or an Italian seasoning mix.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition.

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