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Pasta as a Weight-Loss Food? Don’t Get Too Excited

Pasta is known for being a lot of things: comforting, delicious, starchy, perfect — but a food that promotes weight loss? Not so much. Ever since going low-carb has been a thing, poor pasta has been characterized as one of the most problematic carbohydrates out there, but a new study found that the beloved starch might have been unfairly maligned.

The research — published in the journal BMJ Open and conducted by scientists at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto — indicates that pasta has a low glycemic index unlike most refined carbohydrates. This means eating it causes smaller increases in blood sugar than other foods with a higher GI — like white bread, for example.

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To conduct the study, researchers did a meta-analysis of all the results from randomized control trials (i.e., the best, most scientifically sound ones) and identified nearly 2,500 people who ate pasta instead of other carbs as part of their otherwise healthy, low-GI diet.

“The study found that pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat,” said lead author Dr. John Sievenpiper, a clinician scientist with the hospital’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Modification Centre said in a press release. “In fact analysis actually showed a small weight loss. So contrary to concerns, perhaps pasta can be part of a healthy diet such as a low GI diet.”

But before taking up permanent residence at Olive Garden, these findings, of course, come with a few caveats.

First of all, it should go without saying that this isn’t carte blanche to eat mountains of pasta in the name of good health or weight loss. (Sadly, we are not living in my wildest dreams.) Like all things, pasta should be eaten in moderation.

In this study, that meant 3.3 servings of pasta a week instead of other high-GI carbs. One serving is one-half cup of cooked pasta — so we’re talking a total of less than two cups of (cooked) pasta for the entire week. That’s not a lot. But do you know what’s worse than not a lot of pasta? No pasta at all, so I’ll take it.

And alongside the less than two cups of cooked pasta per week, the rest of the time, the people in the study were on an otherwise healthy diet. So, yes, they did lose weight, but they were already eating well and subbed pasta in for a higher-GI food they were going to eat otherwise.

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Lastly, when looking at new research, it’s always important to pay attention to where the funding for the study came from. In this case, in addition to existing grants, the pasta used in the randomized control trials as well as travel support for researchers came from Barilla. Yes, the Italian pasta-making company.

In other words, it’s best to take these study results the same way you prepare water for cooking pasta: with a giant pinch of salt.

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