Pasta Is Healthier Than You Think, And It’s Even Healthier Than Leftovers

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New year, new you, new diet. It’s a family refrain. One popular diet technique is to create a food blacklist. It’s common to ditch “carbs” or packaged foods, which may mean avoiding supermarket staples like pasta.

But do we really need to ban pasta to improve our diets?

This is what we call a reductionist approach to nutrition, where we describe a food in terms of just one of its key components. Pasta is not just carbs.

One cup (about 145 grams or 5.1 ounces) of cooked pasta has about 38 g of carbohydrates, 7.7 g of protein, and 0.6 g of fat. In addition, there is all the water that is absorbed when cooking and many vitamins and minerals.

“But pasta is mostly carbs!” I hear you cry. This is true, but it is not the whole story. We have to think about the context.

your day on a plate

You probably know that there are recommendations for how much energy (kilojoules or calories) we should eat in a day. These recommendations are based on body size, gender, and physical activity.

But you may not realize that there are also recommendations for the macronutrient profile, or types of foods, that supply this energy.

Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are macronutrients. Macronutrients are broken down in the body to produce energy for our bodies.

Acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges describe the proportion or percentage of macronutrients that should provide this energy. These ranges are established by experts based on health outcomes and healthy eating patterns.

Their goal is to make sure we get enough, but not too much, of each macro. Consuming too much or too little of any type of food can have health consequences.

The ratios are also designed to ensure that we get enough vitamins and minerals that come with energy in the foods we normally eat. We should get 45 to 65 percent of our energy from carbohydrates, 10 to 30 percent from protein, and 20 to 35 percent from fat.

mangia pasta

The macronutrient ratios mean that it can be healthy to eat up to 1.2 to 6.5 times more carbohydrates in a day than protein, since each gram of protein has the same amount of energy as one gram of carbohydrates.

The ratio of carbohydrates to protein in the pasta is 38g to 7.7g, which is roughly equivalent to a 5:1 ratio, well within the acceptable range of macronutrient distribution.

Which means that the pasta actually has enough protein to balance out the carbs. This isn’t just because of the eggs in the pasta, either. Wheat is another source of protein, making up about 20 percent of the protein consumed worldwide.

If you’re concerned about calorie levels and weight gain, it’s not that simple either.

In the context of a healthy diet, it has been shown that people lose more weight when pasta is regularly included in their diet. And, a systematic review of 10 different studies found that pasta was better for post-meal blood glucose levels than bread or potatoes.

Instead of ditching the spaghetti, consider reducing your portion sizes or switching to whole-wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber, which has gut health benefits and can help you feel full longer.

Gluten-free pasta has slightly less protein than wheat pasta. So despite being healthier for those with a gluten intolerance, there are no major health benefits to switching to gluten-free pasta for most of us.

Pass on the pesto and the leftover bolognese

Pasta is not usually eaten alone either. So while some warn about the dangers of blood sugar spikes when eating “naked carbs” (meaning just carbs with no other food), this is generally not a risk for pasta.

When pasta provides the base of a meal, it can be a vehicle to help people eat more vegetables in smooth or chunky vegetable sauces. For kids (or fussy adults), pasta sauce can be a great place to hide mashed or shredded vegetables.

Not eating just pasta is also important for your protein profile. Plant foods are generally not complete proteins, which means that we need to eat combinations of them to get all the different types of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that we need to survive.

But pasta, while we often focus on carbs and energy, packs a good nutritional punch. Like most foods, it is not just macronutrients, it also has micronutrients.

One cup of cooked pasta has about a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamins B1 and B9, half of the recommended intake of selenium, and 10 percent of our iron needs.

The news about pasta gets even better when we eat it as leftovers.

When pasta cooks and cools, some of the carbohydrates turn into resistant starch. This starch gets its name from being resistant to digestion, so it provides less energy and is better for blood sugar levels.

So your leftover pasta, even if you reheat it, has fewer calories than it did the night before.

Take a closer look at the ‘carb’ options

There’s a lot of talk about cutting carbs for weight loss, but remember that carbs come in different forms and in different foods.

Some of them, like pasta, provide other benefits. Others like pastels and popsicles, they add very little else.

When it comes to cutting back on refined carbs, think sweets eaten plain first, before cutting out the basic carbs that are often served with vegetables—arguably the healthiest core food group!

Emma Beckett, Senior Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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