One study says the Italian staple might help you lose weight. We found out if it's too good to be true.
As anyone who's ever had the pleasure of carb-o-loading for a long race or run know, having an excuse to indulge in a guilty pleasure dish in the name of fitness is pretty awesome. But you might actually want to make eating a big bowl of pasta part of your regular health routine, at least according to a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes.
Scientists from the Department of Epidemiology of the Italian government agency I.R.C.C.S. set out to bust the myth that Italy's favorite dish is bad for your BMI. They recruited more than 23,000 people from across Italy to take part in two different studies. People answered questions about their typical eating habits and recorded what they'd eaten during a 24-hour period. Scientists then collected data on the their weight, height, and waist-to-hip ratio to determine their BMI.
Contrary to the default diet "rule" that eating pasta will make you gain weight, the authors found that higher pasta consumption was actually associated with lower BMIs. Say what? Yep, and people who consumed more pasta on the regular had healthier waist-to-hip ratios too.
First off, it's important to know that the study was partially funded by a pasta company, and the findings only showed an association (not direct causation) between pasta and those healthy-weight stats. So you probably shouldn't take this study as an excuse to pile on a pound of fettuccine alfredo.
But pasta can still be part of a healthy diet, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. "For years, I've been telling my patients that pasta itself isn't a poor choice," says Gans. "It's how you're eating the pasta." A lot of times, pasta means a massive bowl of noodles smothered in a high-fat sauce, but following a more Mediterranean cooking style and serving a smaller portion size can make all the difference. "Pasta can be the co-star sharing the plate with lots of vegetables and lean protein like grilled shrimp or beans and tossed with a healthy fat like olive oil," says Gans. (See more: How to Eat Pasta and Still Lose Weight)
Nyree Dardarian, assistant clinical professor at Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions and director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition & Performance, offers up three tips to keep in mind so you can incorporate pasta into your diet without loading up on tons of extra calories.
Stick to the serving size
One serving is the equivalent of half a cup of cooked pasta. That's all, sorry! This means the pasta should only take up about a quarter of your plate.
Add bulk to your pasta dish by mixing in vegetables. This adds volume to your dish and gives you a fuller feeling in your stomach, while keeping the total calories in check. (You can also try adding the veggies into the sauce with these 7 Veggie-Packed Pasta Sauces.)
Use pasta as a vehicle for other healthy ingredients
Toss pasta with cholesterol-lowering, nutrient-rich foods like extra virgin olive oil, basil, spinach, avocado, almonds, cashews, and chickpeas.