Eating pasta could make you slimmer, claim Italian scientists

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The findings go against the popularly held belief that pasta is responsible for weight gain.(©
The findings go against the popularly held belief that pasta is responsible for weight gain.(©

Related tags Mediterranean diet Nutrition

When eaten as part of a Mediterranean diet full of vegetables and olive oil, pasta is associated with a small decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI) and waistline size, Italian researchers have found.

The findings go against the popularly-held belief that pasta is responsible for weight gain. The researchers believe that if consumed in moderation along with other food groups, pasta is beneficial to health and overall weight management.

Pasta consumption in Europe has decreased​ as low carb-high protein diets against obesity have proved popular with consumers.

However, the merits​ of a low calorie and high protein diet versus a low fat and standard carbohydrate diet in managing body weight and the health implications remain a bone of contention amongst the scientific community.

Main findings

mediterranean food
Pasta forms a main component of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to have mutliple health benefits.(©

Researchers from the Department of Epidemiology at Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, established that pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI in women but not in men.

Both sexes did demonstrate a decrease in waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio and a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity. Higher pasta intake was also associated with a higher devotion to the Mediterranean diet in both genders.

"In popular views, pasta is often considered not adequate when you want to lose weight. Some people completely ban it from their meals,” ​commented Licia Iacoviello, Head of the Laboratory of Molecular and Nutritional Epidemiology at Neuromed Institute.

“In light of this research, we can say that this is not a correct attitude. The message emerging from this study is that [the] Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation and respecting the variety of all its elements (pasta in the first place), is good to your health.”

The research examined over 23,000 people recruited in two large epidemiological studies: Moli-sani and INHES (Italian Nutrition & Health Survey).

Moli-sani participants were recruited in the Molise region of Italy between March 2005 and April 2010. Participants were asked to complete medical and dietary questionnaires.

The INHES project used a telephone-based survey on nutrition and health to collect information on the dietary habits (quality, quantity and patterns), food choice determinants, and food health awareness of the Italian population.

Subjects aged 35–79 years, were recruited between 2008 and 2012. Once they accepted, participants were asked to invite one relative older than 79 or younger than 35 years to join the survey.

The Mediterranean diet

The traditional Mediterranean diet has become a model for healthy eating and has been used as a platform for establishing nutrition guidelines and health policies​.

Its health benefits in primary and secondary prevention of chronic diseases has long been studied​since the 1950s ​and confirmed by meta-analysis​.

While much research has focused on why the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest nutritional regimes, few studies discuss the specific role of the pasta component.

Results of this study echo recent work that examined food and nutrient intakes in association with BMI in 1794 US middle-aged adults.

The findings​ demonstrated a negatively associated with BMI when pasta was combined with other food groups.

Discussion of findings

olive oil
The team found those who consumed pasta also ate tomatoes, olive oil, and cheese.(©

In discussing the findings the team found those who consumed pasta also ate tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, and cheese – main components of the MeD.

They commented that the benefits of consuming pasta were still there even if adherence to the diet was not always followed.

They could not explain why pasta was associated with a lower BMI and were unable to draw any firm conclusions as to whether carbohydrates were beneficial or detrimental to health.

“During the last few decades, a progressive increase in red meat consumption, fats, dairy products and simple sugars has been recorded in Italy,”​ the authors discussed.

“The adherence to the MeD that may offer weight management advantages is significantly lowered. Pasta consumption has been modified, because it is frequently considered as a dietary factor that should be restricted in a weight loss program.”

The INHES project was funded by Barilla Spa and by the MISE (Italian Ministry of Economic Development).

Source: Nutrition and Diabetes

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1038/nutd.2016.20

“Association of pasta consumption with body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio: results from Moli-sani and INHES studies.”

Authors: G Pounis et al.

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1 comment

pasta may not be great for all

Posted by Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD,

I'm Italian and I enjoy deliciously prepared pasta as much as anyone, but an association with lower BMI is not the same as research showing pasta is healthful for all. It may also be that those with the greatest insulin sensitivity are able to eat more pasta without an impact on their body size. We need to stop pretending one dietary appraoch works for everyone--even the revered Mediterranean diet.

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