04 May Why I Include Pasta in My Healthy Diet and You Can Too
This post was created in partnership with Barilla. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.
May is Mediterranean Diet Month and I can’t wait to celebrate with lots of delicious food—especially pasta, an original staple of the Med Diet! I could never imagine my life without pasta. As a girl, my mom cooked spaghetti and meat sauce for our family of seven. It was a dish I always looked forward to. As an adult, I still eat pasta and make my kids various types of pasta dinners. Some of our favorites are lasagna, spaghetti and meat sauce, and as a side to my chicken parmesan.
There is, however, a common misperception that pasta “makes you fat,” or is “unhealthy.” Below I debunk these myths and share insight into the health benefits of pasta, the latest research, and how you can make pasta part of your healthy eating plan.
A Nutritious Look at Pasta
Pasta is a nutritious food made with just a few ingredients: enriched durum wheat semolina and water. Enriched semolina pasta is an excellent source of folate (providing 50% of the recommended Daily Value) and a good source of iron (providing 10% of the recommended Daily Value) and fiber (providing 3 grams per serving). It also contains no added fat, sugar, or sodium unlike other refined grain foods. As a traditional staple of the Mediterranean Diet, pasta serves as the perfect carrier for nutrient-rich vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy oils.
It’s a misconception that pasta “makes you fat,” or is “unhealthy.” Besides being nutritious, the unique combination of durum wheat’s high protein content plus pasta’s extrusion and drying process, creates a compact protein-starch matrix, which results in pasta being digested, absorbed, and metabolized more slowly than other refined carbohydrates.
Pasta is also a source of slow digestible starch, which means that pasta delivers a slow and sustained release of blood glucose along with the benefits resulting in a low glycemic and insulinemic response (meaning, insulin is released slowly to retrieve the blood glucose). If you cook pasta al dente, it actually may increase the amount of slow digestible starch.
Semolina pasta is a complex carbohydrate, with a low glycemic index (GI) of less than 55. This shows that pasta helps provide steady energy to the body instead of a spike in blood sugar. The GI of semolina pasta is lower than foods like watermelon (approximate GI of 76) and sweet potatoes (approximate GI of 70).
A Look at the Research
Numerous studies have looked at the inclusion of pasta in a healthy diet. A study published February 2020 compared weight loss in two different groups: the first group consumed a low pasta Mediterranean diet and the second group consumed a high pasta Mediterranean Diet, both groups consumed a low calorie diet. The results showed that both diets, high and low in pasta, contributed to weight loss and improvements in various physiological parameters and dietary habits among participants.
Another study published in in April 2018 looked at the effects of eating pasta as part of a low glycemic index (GI) diet on body weight. The results found that pasta consumed as part of a low GI diet, like the Mediterranean diet, was associated with a reduction of body weight and lower body mass index compared to those who ate a high GI diet.
Recommendations for Pasta Lovers
Pasta can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. If you choose to eat pasta for a meal, then compliment it with vegetables, and lean proteins to create a balanced plate. For example, my kids love my Mac and Cheese with Chicken from my new cookbook The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook, which I compliment with a green salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and mushrooms drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Pasta is a favorite food among many (including me!) and you should enjoy foods you love — it’s truly all about balance and moderation. A few of my other favorite recipes include this whole grain lasagna with spinach & zucchini and casarecce with butternut squash, ricotta & arugula pesto!