Forget paleo, it’s all about the carbs
Over the years we’ve heard it all when it comes to what “healthy” really means. Eat only low fat, no carb, no sugar, vegan, try eating like your ancestors but only the ones who killed their own meat, and on, and on, and on. Sure, now we know to take any and all diet advice with a grain of salt (which, according to the CDC, is all you’re allowed), but there is one piece of food news too delicious to pass up.
According to a newly released study by a group of Italian researchers published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, eating pasta may actually help reduce your waistline.
“Pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity," the report says, which came to its conclusion by following more than 23,000 Italians over five years. It also notes adding pasta to your daily dishes actually leads consumers to more strictly adhere to the Mediterranean diet, long touted as the healthiest of eating habits.
While pasta may inspire some to eat more veggies and healthy fats, in both women and men the report does caveat its findings by revealing “the obese population was older and at lower socioeconomic status, had higher waist and hip circumferences and waist-to-hip ratio, and consumed more pasta (grams per day) than normal or overweight participants.”
So how much farfalle, campanelle, and gnocchi should we really be consuming?
“The amount of pasta I use to consume at one meal has drastically changed,” Gina Pisano Roof, a certified health and wellness coach, tells GOOD in an email. “For example, when I was first married I'm pretty sure I would make the whole box or pound of pasta and just a little topping (and probably eat two large bowls). Now what I do is I make almost an entire meal of the topping (think lots of veggies, lean protein) and probably use maybe one-third of the box.”
In all, the study, like Roof, says 10 percent of your daily caloric intake should come in the form of grains. But, as any nutrition expert will note, not just any pasta will do.
As Roof suggests, instead of reaching for simple boxed pasta, try durum wheat semolina pasta which, “breaks down differently in the body and is a lower glycemic carbohydrate which means it does not turn to sugar as quickly in the body. And it also provides fiber.”
Sure, a healthy balance of the entire food pyramid in each meal is paramount for optimal health, and even in Italy—a country forever married in our collective imagination to long strands of spaghetti smothered in red sauce— pasta consumption has significantly dipped thanks to the vilification of carbs, due in large part to the rise of diets like Atkins. In fact, sales of dried pasta have fallen 25 percent since 2009 in the home of pasta, according to The Washington Post.
“During the last decades, a progressive increase in red meat consumption, fats, dairy products and simple sugars has been recorded in Italy,” the study reports. “The adherence to the Mediterranean diet that may offer weight management advantages is significantly lowered. Pasta consumption has been modified, because it is frequently considered as a dietary factor that should be restricted in a weight loss program.”
So does this mean we can all gorge on a giant plate of spaghetti and meatballs tonight? Maybe, but only if you feel like it, according to Roof.
“I stand firm in my belief that it is so important to have balance in your life,” she says. “Some diets are so extreme and simply set you up for failure because the first thing they do is restrict or deprive.”
Roof says she allows herself to enjoy the foods many believe to be “treats” such as pasta, ice cram and chocolate. But, to keep it all in a healthy balance she follows the 80/20 philosophy. “Eighty percent of the time I make smart, nutritious choices, full of foods that provide nourishment and energy, probably most closely to a Mediterranean diet, and then 20 percent of the time I eat whatever it is that I want or enjoy a night out with friends, or whatever it might be.”
To make the ultimate healthy and pasta-filled dinner Roof suggests a base of ancient grain pasta and “a ton of colorful veggies of different textures, and some sort of protein.” Add in all the veggies you have on hand, roast in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little Italian seasoning. To make this meal complete we’d recommend pairing it with another Italian favorite: a nice Chianti wine (but that’s just us).