Scientists found a surprising relationship between people who ate more pasta and their health

If you’re trying to make your diet healthier, you’re likely not going to reach for the pasta, as difficult as it may be to resist.

But a new study out Monday suggests there may be hope yet for pasta to fit into a diet associated with slimmer bodies.

The Mediterranean diet is modelled off of foods commonly eaten in countries on the Mediterranean Sea. The diet’s usually filled with foods like olive oil, fish, whole grains, and nuts, and it’s considered one of the best diets to follow because of its connections to health benefits.

But pasta, a long-time staple of Mediterranean diets, particularly in Italy, is a bit trickier to pin down. Take a serving of spaghetti (about one cup, cooked). It’s got some nutritional benefit like fibre and protein, but at 221 calories per serving, it’s mostly just contributing to your carbohydrate count. It’s also incredibly easy to over-eat, and unless you’re eating whole grain pasta, you’re missing out on some vitamins from whole wheat.

So, researchers with the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo in Italy looked into how pasta fits into the Mediterranean Diet health effects picture.

The study

The study looked at about 14,400 people living in the Molise region of southern Italy. To be included in the study, participants had to be born in Italy and be white. They also couldn’t be on a special diet to manage things like diabetes or hypertension.

The participants then answered a survey that asked them to recall their eating habits over the past year. This group also had their heights and weights recorded, with which the researchers could calculate BMI, or body mass index. The researchers also looked at the waist-to-hip ratios, which is used as a way to measure obesity and other health risks.

In addition to the group from the Molise region, the study also drew from data collected from almost 9,000 participants in the Italian Nutrition & Health Survey from all across Italy. The information collected was similar, using a dietary survey, but the height and weight was self-reported.

What the researchers found

The researchers came to a surprising conclusion from these observations: Overall, they found a negative association between pasta consumption and obesity (meaning, the more pasta a person reportedly ate, the less obese they were in the context of the other participants).

That happened in a few different categories:

  • Those who ate more pasta were more likely to stick with the other components of the Mediterranean diet.
  • The researchers also found a negative association between BMI and pasta.
  • In the participants from Molise, their waist-to-hip ratios and waist and hip circumferences were all negatively associated with pasta consumption.

So should I eat pasta for dinner every night?

Not necessarily. Keep in mind, this is just an association: Since it was just asking people to recall their eating habits, there could be misreporting (either over-or-under-estimating how much pasta they ate relative to other foods). Plus, because it just collected one survey, it doesn’t show over time how pasta-eating habits change a person’s weight. And, BMI remains somewhat controversial as an overall predictor of health.

It’s also possible, since those who ate more pasta also followed the Mediterranean diet more closely, there may be other dietary habits at play that are more integral to the person’s health than their pasta-eating habits.

If you can though, try to go for the whole grain pasta to get some added nutritional benefit.

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