A new study by researchers at St. David’s Hospital in Toronto shows pasta doesn’t deserve the abuse that it’s endured.
The researchers reviewed 30 clinical trials involving nearly 2,500 people who ate pasta instead of other carb-loaded foods as part of a healthy diet with a low glycemic index (GI), according to a St. David’s news release. The study was published in the medical research journal BMI Open.
“The study found that pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat,” the study’s lead author Dr. John Sievenpiper, a clinician scientist at St. David’s, said in the news release. “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.”
(Note: Some of the study’s authors have received research grants, donations of pasta and coverage of travel expenses from pasta maker Barilla.)
In the clinical trials analyzed by the researchers, people ate an average of 3.3 servings of pasta a week in place of other carbohydrates. One serving equals about half a cup of cooked pasta.
Nutrition experts say that based on this and other evidence, pasta can be an ingredient in a healthy diet.
“Pasta is not an evil food,” says nutritionist Keith Kantor, CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking (NAMED) Program. “It should simply be consumed in moderate portions along with a quality protein and heart-healthy fat.”
Experts serve up the following seven tips for savoring pasta while ensuring it doesn’t lead to packing on more pounds.
1. Keep an eye on the portion size.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Liz Weber says a portion of pasta generally should take up just one-fourth of the area of a plate.
“Large plates full of pasta will contribute to weight gain over time due to its influence on insulin and blood sugars,” Kantor says.
2. Limit your pasta consumption.
Just because you can eat pasta doesn’t mean that you should devour it every time you sit down for lunch or dinner. Certified international health coach Tiffany Bassford, who studied in Italy, notes that despite their reputation, pasta-loving Italians don’t chow down on pasta every day or sometimes even every week.
“Italians often have smaller portions of pasta and another course as part of a meal. The pasta is fresh and the sauces are also freshly made, making for a lighter pasta experience,” Temples says.
When it comes to traditional white-flour pasta, stick to one weekly serving of no more than 1 cup, advises nutrition consultant Stacy Goldberg, a registered nurse.
3. Watch the sauce
You can easily cancel out the health benefits of pasta if you ladle on creamy, high-fat sauces such as Alfredo sauce. As a healthier alternative, turn to tomato sauce, Goldberg recommends, but make sure it’s low in sugar and sodium.
4. Go for whole grain.
Weber recommends using whole-grain pasta whenever possible.
“Whole grains are a great source of dietary fiber, which contributes to overall satiety throughout the day and keeping your heart healthy by maintaining blood cholesterol levels,” she says. “Getting adequate fiber may also help reduce your risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.”
If you’re not gung-ho on whole-grain pasta, there is a hybrid that mimics traditional pasta.
“It’s a different eating experience, but there are pastas that blend whole-grain and regular semolina flour, and they’re a great way to get more whole grain but still have the flavor you're used to,” says registered dietitian Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate clinical professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
5. Add veggies.
To reduce the amount of pasta you consume, Kantor suggests mixing it with vegetables. For instance, you might try tossing steamed broccoli into the marinara sauce you’re serving with the rigatoni that you cooked.
6. Experiment with different types of pasta.
Pastas made with chickpeas, lentils, edamame, beans and quinoa enable you to include more high-protein, plant-based pasta products in your diet, experts say.
7. Relish it (without overdoing it).
Bassford cites research indicating that if we take pleasure in our food, it improves how we metabolize nutrients.
“Pasta is universally loved, and healthy food cultures show us that food pleasure matters,” she says. “Healthy food cultures take pleasure at the table. They don’t flee from it or believe they’ll fall into an ethos of excess by giving into the pleasure of the