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Can you eat pasta without gaining weight? It depends!

Quick! Don’t think about it, just answer. What is the very first item you should read on the Nutrition Facts label?

If you said calories, you’re wrong. Fat grams? Nope. Carbohydrates? Wrong again.

The most important piece of information on the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size. Know that, and you know everything you need to know. And there is a big difference between what’s listed on the package as “serving size” and a portion of food that’s typically consumed. More to follow.

In the meantime, the headline “Eating pasta won’t make you fat, study reveals” made me laugh out loud. Because I’ve been to Italy, and Italians eat pasta, and they’re not fat. Surely we didn’t need a study to tell us that — did we?

As reported by BusinessInsider.com, in an April 2018 study published in the BMJ Open researchers examined 30 randomized controlled trials involving 2,488 participants who ate pasta around three times per week instead of other carbohydrates like white bread.  They also ate a low-glycemic index diet. The following of this diet was a crucial detail to the study, the authors of the study stressed.

The low GI diet is based on the concept of the glycemic index, which ranks foods on the rate at which the body breaks it down to form glucose.

Pasta has a low glycemic index, which means it causes smaller increases in blood sugar levels than most other refined carbs, such as rice and white bread.

The people who took part in the study ate on average 3.3 servings of pasta per week instead of other carbs. Each serving was equivalent to about a half-cup of cooked pasta.

The researchers concluded, “Pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat … In weighing the evidence, we can now say with some confidence that pasta does not have an adverse effect on body weight outcomes when it is consumed as part of a healthy dietary pattern.”

Remember the question, “What’s the first line you should read on the Nutrition Facts label?”

Serving size.

What was the amount of pasta included in this study?

The people involved in the study ate 3.3 servings of pasta a week instead of other carbohydrates. One serving equals about one-half cup of cooked pasta.

One cup of cooked pasta is 1/2 cup, and looks like a baseball.

One-half cup cooked. That’s about the size of a baseball. Pretty small. Remember, that is cooked pasta.

The study participants all replaced one serving of carbohydrate like bread or rice with pasta, three times a week. This led to the researchers’ conclusion that you can eat pasta without gaining weight.

But the study includes some pretty important information that can only be found by reading the fine print. Down at the bottom of the study’s acknowledgements, it is written, “Some of the authors have received prior research grants, in-kind donations of pasta for a randomized controlled trial, and travel support from the pasta maker Barilla.”

As reported in Nutrition Coalition, “Established media outlets such as Newsweek, New York Daily News and Business Insider reported on studies by Barilla-funded scientists without scrutiny, with headlines declaring that eating pasta is “linked to weight loss.” A Buzzfeed article noted that since 2008, at least 10 peer-reviewed studies about pasta have been either funded directly by Barilla or carried out by scientists with financial connections to the global pasta giant. One of the scientists, David Jenkins of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, told Buzzfeed that Barilla had contributed $456,000 to his research between 2004 and 2015, as well as travel funding.”

And here’s the thing. No one eats a half-cup of pasta. A half-cup cooked weighs two ounces, or only one-ounce, dry.

There’s a weighty difference between a typical portion of pasta and what the manufacturers consider a “serving size.” If you read the calories first and see 110 calories you probably think, “Hey, that’s not so bad!” But consider that most people eat at least one cup or more likely two cups.  Which means you need to at least double those calories.

It is not the pasta that makes it “fattening,” it’s the topping.

Suppose you eat a whole cup of pasta — that’s only 220 calories. But add just a half-cup of cream-based Alfredo sauce and now you’ve upped the ante to about 450 calories plus 20 grams of added fat.

Credit: Betty Crocker. Garden vegetable pasta

Mangia e divertiti!

Fiber fills you up and makes everything better. The focus of the pasta plate should be pasta and an equal amount of savory sautéed vegetables such as broccoli, fresh tomatoes, kale, onions, and peppers. This pasta has a lower glycemic impact plus antioxidants and fantastic flavor — without adding fat and calories. I’ve got a great recipe.  Write to me at susanthedietitian@gmail.com.

All kinds of pasta are not equal. In fact, we have options! Most grocery stores carry a number of different brands of pasta, including whole-wheat pasta which is higher in fiber and protein too.

Back to the study that concluded eating pasta three times a week won’t make you fat. Of course, it won’t. But it won’t “cause” you to lose weight. With pasta, it’s about the additions and the portion size.

And as for the science, well, Barilla knows. Why not toot your horn? Who else will?

Italians try Italian-American food for the first time.

Watch this funny video: What happens when you feed an Italian Italian-American food?

Sources
Business Insider. Eating pasta 3 times a week won’t make you gain weight, according to a new study — and it could even make you lose it.

Nutrition Coalition. “Big Pasta” cooks up self-interested nutrition science.