Bring on the carbs.
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The keto diet and other low-carb lifestyles may be all the rage, but a new research review serves as a reminder that cutting out carbs isn't a necessary evil in order to lose weight. The University of Toronto paper published in the British Medical Journal looked at how eating pasta as part of a low-GI diet (which focuses on eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, a measurement of how quickly a food's carbohydrates are broken down into sugars), can affect someone's weight and body measurements. Turns out, eating this way can actually help you lose weight.
Since pasta and other carb-heavy foods are often branded as an enemy of the scale, researchers looked at whether eating pasta causes weight gain in the context of a low-GI diet, which is conventionally considered conducive to weight loss. They found that among the 32 trials in which participants ate low-GI diets that included pasta, not only did they avoid gaining weight, they often lost it—albeit an average of less than 2 pounds.
The team designed this data review to address the potential for carbs to harm weight-loss attempts, as there's a common concern about carbohydrates, in particular, pasta, says study co-author John Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D. "We didn't see evidence of harm or weight gain, but it's interesting that we did see some weight loss," says Dr. Sievenpiper. Even under conditions when the intention was to maintain weight, participants lost weight without trying, he also points out. (Related: Carb Backloading: Should You Eat Carbs at Night to Lose Weight?)
But don't take this as scientific proof that you can eat a massive bowl of pasta for every meal and still lose weight. The researchers were able to quantify the amount of pasta that participants ate in roughly one-third of the studies they reviewed. Of that one-third, the median amount of pasta eaten was 3.3 servings (at 1/2 cup per serving) a week. Translation: A lot of these people were eating less pasta on a weekly basis than you might get in a single meal at a restaurant. "I wouldn't want someone to take away that pasta doesn't cause weight gain," under any circumstance, says Sievenpiper. "If you consume too much pasta, it will be like if you consume too much of anything." This is so much as to say that moderation still reigns supreme, and overeating pasta (or anything else) won't lead to weight loss.
Also worth noting, there's a chance that the weight loss resulted from the overall intake of low-GI foods, not necessarily as a direct result of eating pasta. The authors of the study concluded in their paper that more research is needed to assess whether the same weight-loss results would hold up if pasta were part of another healthy eating style such as a Mediterranean or vegetarian diet. (All the more reason to whip up the pasta options among these 50 healthy Mediterranean diet recipes.)
The good news to take from all of this: These findings strongly suggest that losing weight and eating pasta aren't mutually exclusive. Music to our carb-loving ears. "I think people can lose weight on an 'all foods fit' type of diet," says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition à la Natalie. "As long as someone eats a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, they can definitely lose weight." Rizzo suggests reaching for bean-based or whole-grain pastas, which offer extra fiber and protein over the traditional varieties. (BTW: Are Those Bean and Vegetable Pastas Actually Better for You?) Try serving pasta primavera-style with lots of veggies or with marinara sauce rather than a cream-based sauce. It's also beneficial to make sure the pasta meal (or any meal for that matter) has a source of protein and healthy fats and portions are kept in check, she adds. So what's the bottom line on pasta and weight loss? If you're trying to drop a few pounds, no need to swear off noodles entirely. Just add some green stuff and maintain some portion control.