How healthy is eating pasta (and how it affects your weight)

A pasta dish ready to be eaten.

A pasta dish ready to be eaten.

New year, new you and new diet. This is a family refrain. One popular dieting technique is to draw up a food blacklist, in which it’s common to skip “carbs” or packaged foods, which may mean avoiding pasta.

But do we really need to cut out pasta to improve our diets?

This is what we call a reductionist approach to nutritionin which we describe a food based on just one of its key components.

The pasta are not only carbs. One cup (about 145 grams) of cooked pasta has about 38 grams of carbohydrates, 7.7 grams of protein, and 0.6 grams of fat. In addition, there is all the water that is absorbed when cooking and many vitamins and minerals.

“But pasta is mostly carbs!” I hear you sob. It is true, but it is not the whole story. We have to think about the context.

your day on a plate

You probably know that there are recommendations for how much energy (kilojoules or calories) we should eat in a day. These recommendations are based on body size, gender, and physical activity. But you may not realize that there are also recommendations for the macronutrient profile, or types of foods, that supply this energy.

Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are macronutrients. Macronutrients are broken down in the body to produce energy for our bodies.

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A woman checks an application on her cell phone that contains the calories of each food, while she goes shopping.

When starting a diet, the foods to be consumed should not be chosen simply because they contain carbohydrates, but should be considered if they have proteins and vitamins.

Acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges describe the proportion or percentage of macronutrients that should provide this energy. These ranges are established by experts based on health outcomes and healthy eating patterns.

The goal is to make sure we get enough, but not too much of each macro. Eating too much or too little of any type of food can have health consequences.

The ratios are also designed to ensure that we get enough vitamins and minerals that come with energy in the foods we normally eat. We should get 45 to 65% of our energy from carbohydratesfrom 10 to 30% of proteins and from 20 to 35% of fats.

Mangia pasta

The macronutrient ratios mean that it can be healthy to eat up to 1.2 to 6.5 times more carbohydrates in a day than protein, since each gram of protein has the same amount of energy as one gram of carbohydrates.

A man serving a pasta.

Studies and research have revealed that people lose more weight when pasta is a regular part of their diet.

The ratio of carbohydrates and proteins in pasta is 38 grams to 7.7 gramswhich roughly equates to a 5-to-1 ratio, which is well within the acceptable range of macronutrient distribution and means that the pasta actually has enough protein to balance out the carbs.

This is not only due to the eggs that the pasta contains. Wheat is another source of protein and constitutes approximately 20% of the protein consumed worldwide.

The relationship between calorie levels and weight gain is not that simple either.

In the context of a healthy diet, it has been shown that people lose more weight when pasta is regularly included in their diet. And, a systematic review of ten different studies found that pasta was better for blood glucose levels after meals than bread or potatoes.

A plate of spaghetti.

The expert assures that reducing the portions of pasta is a better way than excluding this food when dieting.

Instead of ditching the spaghetti, you should consider reduce portion sizes or switch to whole-wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber, which offers gut health benefits and can help you feel full longer.

Gluten-free pasta has slightly less protein than wheat pasta. So despite being healthier for those with a gluten intolerance, there are no major health benefits to switching to gluten-free pasta for most of us.

With pesto and bolognese

Pasta is not usually eaten alone either. So while some warn about the dangers of blood sugar spikes when eating “naked carbs” (meaning just carbs with no other food), this is generally not a risk for pasta.

A pot of pasta with a red sauce.

Pasta can help picky kids and adults consume vegetables and greens they might not otherwise eat.

When pasta provides the base of a meal, it can be a vehicle to help people eat more vegetables in sauces or with chunks. For kids (or fussy adults), Pasta sauce can be a great place to hide mashed or shredded vegetables.

Not eating just pasta is also important for your protein profile. Plant foods are generally not complete proteins, which means that we need to eat combinations of them to get all the different types of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that we need to survive.

But pasta, while we often focus on carbs and energy, packs a good nutritional punch. Like most foods, they are not just macronutrients, they also have micronutrients.

One cup of cooked pasta has about a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamins B1 and B9, half of the recommended intake of selenium, and 10% of our iron needs.

A donut bite.

The intake of cakes, sweets and other products with high levels of sugar is much more recommended than excluding pasta.

The news about pasta gets even better when we eat it as leftovers.

When pasta cooks and cools, some of the carbohydrates turn into resistant starch. This starch gets its name from being resistant to digestion, so it provides less energy and is better for blood sugar levels. So leftover pasta, even if you reheat it, has fewer calories than it did the night before.

To look more at the ‘carb’ options

There’s a lot of talk about cutting down on carbs for weight loss, but you have to remember that carbs come in different forms and in different foods.

Some of them, like pasta, provide other benefits. Others like cakes and sweets, they add little. When it comes to reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates, one should think first of all about sweets that are eaten plain, before cutting out the basic carbohydrates that are often served with vegetables, possibly the healthiest core food group!

*Emma Beckett is Senior Lecturer in Food Science and Human Nutrition in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Newcastle, UK.

*This article was published on The Conversation and reproduced here under the Creative Commons license. Click here to see the original version (in English).

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