Does pasta really make you that fat? A new study reopens the debate

After a long time demonizing fat, the trend in recent years has been to flee from carbohydrates like the plague, both for weight and health issues. Protein diets and lowcarb They are in fashion and many experts are calling for a change in the traditional nutritional pyramid that gives so much priority to cereals. Pasta is especially suffering from this attack on carbohydrates and almost no one thinks that it can be valid in a weight loss diet, but is it really that fattening? A new study developed in Italy reopens the debate after analyzing its relationship with the body mass index.

Most of us like pasta, it is usually associated with holidays, whims or celebrations, it brings us memories of childhood and memorable banquets on visits to Italy. But it is popular knowledge that it is very fattening because it is high in calories. It is very energetic and that is why it is associated with the diet of the athlete who needs large reserves to withstand long periods of high intensity, such as cyclists, runners or swimmers. However, it has traditionally been a staple in the Mediterranean diet, consumed daily especially in Italy. That is why an Italian research team has wanted to investigate the effect that its consumption has on obesity.

The data and conclusions of the study

The starting situation of this work has been the lack of bibliography that has dealt with the traditional consumption of pasta in Italy within the Mediterranean diet in relation to body weight. As a result of the bad reputation that this food is having in recent years, researchers have tried to evaluate the association of pasta consumption with body mass index (BMI) and waist / hip index (ICC) through two epidemiological studies.

The results of the research, carried out by the Instituto Mediterráneo Neurológico Neuromed de Pozzilli, have just been published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, and it has released some interesting results that, in any case, should be taken with caution. The procedure consisted of taking data from some 23,000 people divided into two large study groups, the Moli-sani and the INHES.

Specifically, 14,402 randomized participants older than 35 years from the Molise region and 8,964 participants older than 18 years from all over Italy were recruited. For data collection, questionnaires on food consumption habits and their frequency were used, including a 24-hour diary. In addition, information on weight, height, and hip and waist circumference was collected, in some cases with measurements in situ and others simply taking the anthropometric data directly reported by the volunteers.

After analyzing the evolution of the BMI and ICC of the participants in relation to their pasta consumption, those responsible for the study concluded that, within the Mediterranean diet, pasta does not have a negative association with an increase in obesity, and even can help you maintain a healthy weight. As George Pouris, a researcher at the Neuromed Institute, has stated, the consumption of pasta is not associated with weight gain, on the contrary, within a balanced diet it can actually improve BMI.

Limitations and buts: let's not throw the bells flying

Despite the happy conclusions, the researchers themselves accept the limitations of their work. In the first place, it is an observational study, in which the questionnaires of frequency of consumption are not very precise for data collection with such large participants. As they are cross-sectional studies, a cause-effect relationship cannot be established, and the lack of data or precision in many of them must be considered.The underestimation and overestimation bias in the use of diet methodologies and the data extracted must also be taken into account, as well as the collinearity presented in terms of the indicated foods, and the fact that only dietary data were taken one time.

Another interesting fact that I think is worth mentioning is that the multinational pasta company Barilla has participated in the financing of the study, together with various research support organizations, although the authors have declared the absence of conflicts of interest and the total and absolute independence in their work and conclusions.

Now, can we eat all the pasta we want without regrets? Does pasta help you lose weight? It is clear that these are absurd questions. In the first place, it does not seem correct to me to value a food only for its ability to "make us fat or lose weight", since I am in favor of prioritizing the quality of the nutrients as a whole and not for the calories they have. Second, let's not ignore the fact that pasta is not eaten alone, and many times it is the sauces and accompaniments that increase the energy power, fats and sugars of the dish.

And, more importantly, even this study emphasizes that pasta consumption can be healthy within a balanced diet based on the patterns of the Mediterranean diet. The key is in balance, and as dietitian-nutritionist Lucia Martínez Argüelles never tires of repeating, we should consider much more “things with pasta” dishes and not “pasta with things”. Preferably prioritizing vegetables within that "stuff". And if we use whole wheat pasta from time to time, much better.

Mediterranean diet, balance and common sense

I go back to the beginning to emphasize that more and more specialists insist that carbohydrates, especially refined cereals, should not be the basis of our daily diet. Traditionally this has been instilled in us, but there are many recent studies that are taking the recommendations in another direction, and that is that our diet should prioritize vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts above all else.

But yes, pasta can be part of a healthy diet, always in a reasonable way. I don't think you have to obsess over these issues unless we have real health problems or very specific nutritional needs. As they say, “Italians eat a lot of pasta and they are not all fat”, and let's not forget that in Asia they are also very fond of noodles. There are ways to eat pasta without fear of gaining weight, and although they should not be the basis of the diet, it is not advisable to completely eliminate carbohydrates in a balanced diet. I'm glad that pasta is starting to be seen as an evil demon, but let's not go crazy either and apply a little common sense.

Photos | Pixabay, Christian Cable
More information | Nutrition & Diabetes
Directly to the Palate | Pasta, not only an excellent source of energy

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