Over the last few years pasta and many of its humble carbohydrate friends have gained a poor reputation in the fitness world – but a recent study suggests that cyclists had it right with the pro-pasta-party attitude the first time round.
Eating a high protein, low carb diet has become a popular weight loss method, and for many of those looking to maintain muscle mass and drop pounds it has been a successful approach. However, that doesn’t mean if you’re looking to maintain a healthy weight you should be shunning carbs. Our bodies need carbohydrates to function – especially in sport when we’re working at high intensities and burning through glycogen quicker than our cat can demolish a bowl of Whiskers finest.
Most athletes understand that carbohydrates such as pasta, cous cous, potatoes and bread are a valuable part of their diet. But we all like a little proof – and we were pleased to see a study of over 23,000 people carried out in Italy actually linked pasta consumption with lower body mass.
The study was carried out at the Department of Epidemiology, I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy. Information was collected via a questionnaire, which asked participants to fill out what they had eaten over the last 24 hours – including the time they ate, where they ate it, and how much. Portion sizes were also noted and participants had to give information as to any specific diets they were following.
George Pounis, the paper’s lead author, said: “We have seen that consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight, rather the opposite. Our data shows that enjoying pasta according to individuals’ needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference and better waist-hip ratio.”
Is it just a healthy Mediterranean diet?
The obvious assumption to make is that the better weight management of the pasta eating individuals might have been down to the generally healthier Mediterranean diet that’s popualr in Italy. However, the researches at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Italy found the correlation between healthier weights and eating pasta actually occurred independent of other dietary factors.
Dr Gunter Kuhnle, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading, analysed the finding by saying that the healthy Mediterranean diet may have had an influence, but that the findings still showed the popular demonsiation of carbohydrates and pasts could be wrong.
He explained: “In this context, it is however important to understand that pasta intake cannot be seen in isolation but that it is part of a dietary pattern. In this study, people who consumed a lot of pasta also followed a traditional “Meditterranean diet”, which is not surprising as the study was conducted in a Mediterranean population. Pasta intake could therefore be mainly a marker for adherence to this kind of diet. What is interesting, however, is that these results clearly show that it is wrong to demonise carbohydrates as the data clearly show that consumption of a carbohydrate-rich food such as pasta does not have an adverse effect on body weight.”
Maybe it goes without saying – but just in case. Too much of pretty much any bulky food (eg pasta, cous cous, potato, meat, dairy – anything that’s not celery, cucumber or spinach-esque) will eventually make you gain weight if you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning. The study shows that pasta itself isn’t fattening, but eating more than you need to consume to balance your energy levels won’t help your diet or fitness goals.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that pasta sauces vary dramatically in their calorie content – if you’re watching your weight, look for sauces rich in tomato and vegetables, not cheese and cream.