You’d be hard-pressed to find a meal as overwhelmingly demonised as pasta when it comes to weight-loss, but a new study has found that under the right circumstances, it’s not actually that fattening.
In fact, pasta can actually help you maintain a healthy weight, Italian researchers have found, thanks to a study involving more than 20,000 people.
You might not have noticed, but in recent years, we’ve seen something of a quiet revolution when it comes to food.
The traditional 'bad boys' of a healthy diet - butter, salt, and eggs - are starting to be redeemed through new research, with studies challenging official US dietary recommendations that have persisted for decades in spite of scientific evidence.
And now researchers are telling us there’s no point in avoiding pasta either.
Let’s be clear though - no one’s saying you should load up on butter, creamy pasta, and salty eggs. The old adage, "Everything in moderation," has never been more pertinent.
As researchers from the Neuromed Institute of explain in a new study, when eaten as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet, pasta is your weight-loss friend.
"In popular views, pasta is often considered not adequate when you want to lose weight. And some people completely ban it from their meals," says one of the team, Licia Iacoviello.
"In light of this research, we can say that this is not a correct attitude. We're talking about a fundamental component of Italian Mediterranean tradition, and there is no reason to do without it."
Iacoviello and her colleagues randomly recruited 14,402 participants aged over 35 from the Molise region of Southern Italy - a cohort known as the Moli-sani Project. Another group of 8,964 participants aged over 18 years from all over Italy were analysed separately (called the INHES cohort).
The team used a standardised questionnaire to find out what each participant had eaten over the past 24 hours, including time, place of consumption, detailed description of foods or beverages, quantity consumed, and brand.
Portion sizes were taken into account, and the participants were asked whether they were following a particular diet and whether the food they’d had in the past 24 hours was different from the norm.
The participants also had their weight, height, waist and hip circumferences were measured.
Not only did the study find no correlation between eating pasta and an unhealthy weight - it was the opposite, because pasta consumption was actually linked to being slimmer.
"As a traditional component of Mediterranean diet, pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity," the researchers conclude.
"The message emerging from this study, as from other scientific analyses conducted in the context of the Moli-sani Project and INHES, is that Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation and respecting the variety of all its elements (pasta in the first place), is good to your health," says Iacoviello.
There are some pretty hefty caveats though, the most important being that the link between pasta consumption and healthy diet was contingent on the person adhering to the Mediterranean diet - a diet consisting of food high in complex carbohydrates and fibre, such as legumes, rice, and cereals, plus cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, and fish.
That means the people who were able to keep their weight down and enjoy pasta were already maintaining an overall healthy, balanced diet, and were having their pasta with fish and vegetables, rather than huge, creamy meals with lots of meat.
Their portion sizes were also quite modest, so we're talking a side of pasta, rather than a whole meal, which is traditional in Mediterranean eating.
"Survey participants were given little picture booklets to help them report portion size," Kathleen O'Brien reports for NJ. "The biggest portion selection was 86 grams - in other words, 86 grams constituted a very large portion for these Italians."
So when you boil down these results, they're not actually that surprising - you can have your pasta and eat it too if you maintain a healthy balanced diet. All those good carbs can help you feel full, and that's going to help you cut down on the calories, if you do it right.
The results have been published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes.