There is a new research paper that is creating some buzz, why? Because it found people who eat pasta don't necessary have higher BMIs. Wait. What? For years, it’s been thought that consuming pasta would surely lead to weight gain and it’s been shunned by dieters for nearly 20 years, when the Atkins craze first hit. Before we start carbo-loading, let’s take a look at the study…
The Mediterranean Diet has been hailed as one of the healthiest ways of eating in the world, because of its emphasis on healthy fats, whole foods and including an abundance of vegetables. Until now, pasta wasn’t really included in the the list of foods that make the Mediterranean Diet so nutritious. The scientists who published the paper noticed this and aimed to determine the role that pasta has in the Mediterranean Diet, particularly the Italian Mediterranean Diet and how pasta intake might be related to body weight.
The cross-sectional study, published in the Nutrition & Diabetes journal, explored the dietary habits and anthropometric data of over 14,000 participants comprised of two different cohorts – those from the Molise region of Italy and individuals from throughout the country. Even though data was collected differently in each group, results were similar – pasta intake was associated (not correlated) with lower BMIs and overweight/obesity prevalence. The sample from the Molise region also exhibited lower waist to hip ratios and waist circumference.
The scientists also found that individuals who included pasta in their diets were more likely to follow the Mediterranean Diet closely and consume foods like tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, rice, etc regularly.
The findings of this study are interesting (and good news for people who like pasta / everyone) but as a Registered Dietitian, there are a few things that I think we should keep in mind…
First, whole grains always trump refined grains. They, of course, contain more fiber and don’t cause such a significant spike in our blood glucose levels. Consuming whole grains regularly is associated with reduced risks for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. I love brown rice pastas, whole wheat pastas and quinoa pastas. In fact, this Trader Joe’s pasta is my fav and one of the best gluten-free pastas I’ve found.
Next, our concept of pasta servings in the U.S. is a bit skewed. At restaurants, if we order a pasta dish, we’re likely to get triple the recommended serving size of pasta, which should be about a half cup (some might say 1 cup). If you’re cooking pasta at home, make the majority of your pasta dish veggies rather than pasta.
Some sauces can be really calorie dense and short on nutrients (unless we’re talking sodium). To add some extra goodness to your pasta, try pestos with fresh veggies, homemade tomato sauces blended with extra veggies, and veggie-based “cheese” sauces like sweet potato mac and cheese sauce or cauliflower alfredo sauce.
Pasta can absolutely be included in a balanced diet, but don’t forget that the most nutritious diets include a variety of foods so keep mixing it up!
Check out the full research paper here!
Homemade Quinoa Wheat Pasta (serves 4-6)
- 1 cup quinoa flour*
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- Dash of salt
- ~ 1 1/4 cup of water (maybe less, maybe more)
Add quinoa flour, whole wheat flour and salt to food processor and pulse to mix. Next, turn food processor on and very slowly pour water into the top while the motor is running. Once a dough starts to form, take it out of the food processor to finish kneading by hand for ~3 minutes dusting with extra flour as necessary. You want your dough to have a consistent texture and to not be sticking to your hands – it sounds weird, but you want it to feel like your cheek so you may have to adjust the amount of water/flour you use. Once you’ve accomplished this texture, cover your dough and put it in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.
After the dough has rested, use a pastry cutter to portion dough into 4 pieces. Keep the pieces that you’re not working with covered. If you’re using a rolling pin to roll out the dough, check out these instructions.
If you have a pasta machine, take a piece of dough and lightly knead before passing through a pasta roller on its widest setting (0 on my machine). Next, fold the dough like a letter (making two folds in towards the center), dust with flour and put it through the widest setting once again. Fold and dust with flour and pass through setting 0 once again. Repeat this step about 3 or 4 times. This process helps to continue kneading the pasta and with this particular recipe, it is necessary to continue this step several times. Next, pass the dough through setting 1 and then setting 2. Lastly, pass the dough through setting #3. Continue with the other 3 pieces of dough, being sure to dust with flour and cover each rolled out sheet of pasta.
To make fettuccine, you can either roll your pasta sheets up and use a knife to create noodles of desired width or, if you have a fettuccini attachment for your pasta machine, feed each sheet of pasta through being sure to catch it as it is cut. Each batch should be placed in a little nest on a sheet tray and lightly dusted with flour.
Homemade pasta cooks VERY quickly, so make sure everything else is ready before you add it to the pot. To cook, salt a big pot of boiled water – you want your pasta water to have the same saltiness of sea water. Cook in small batches (this helps to reduce the pasta from sticking together) and only leave the pasta in the water for 1 minute for a nice al dente texture.
*You can buy quinoa flour, but I made my own by adding 1/2 cup of quinoa at a time to my vitamix and mixing on high until flour consistency is achieved. You’ll get slightly over 1 cup of quinoa flour when it’s mixed, but you can put the extra aside and use for dusting when you roll out the dough.
If you are interested in learning more about making your own pasta dough at home, I recommend this article from Serious Eats which has some great tips and pictures on how to properly roll out your dough.
Pasta La Vista Baby,
-Shauna MS, RD