That’s what the news headlines about one recently published research study are suggesting. You might be wondering, can that really be true?
After all, carbohydrates have long been implicated as a contributing factor to rising weight and chronic health conditions such as diabetes around the world. While sugar, the most quickly-digested form of carbohydrate, has shouldered most of the criticism, other high-carbohydrate foods—pasta, rice, bread—have also been vilified.
The fear that has been created around carbohydrates has led many weight-conscious folks—and adherents to trendy eating styles like paleo—to swear off carbs completely (or at least try to!).
Participants are sometimes surprised to find foods like pasta and whole-grain bread on our menu, but at Green Mountain, we have long believed that all foods can fit into a wholesome way of eating. This new research provides even more support for a balanced, inclusive approach.
What the “Eating Pasta” Study Found
While considered a refined carbohydrate (i.e., it’s made from white flour), pasta is also considered to have a low glycemic index (GI), which is more typical of unrefined or whole grains.
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates in food affect blood sugar. Foods that have a low-GI lead to a slower rise in blood sugar levels than high-GI foods, which raise blood sugar levels more quickly. Other research suggests that in general, low-GI diets seem to confer more health advantages over than higher GI diets.
For this study, the authors looked at several randomized, controlled trials (the gold standard of research designs) to see how including pasta in various types of diets affected people’s weight and body fat. They found that consumption of pasta as part of an overall low-GI dietary pattern did not contribute to weight gain—in fact, people who ate this way tended to lose a bit of weight over time compared to folks who ate a more typical high-GI Western diet.
What Does This Mean?
It means that maybe pasta has been undeserving of all the criticism it’s received. (We think that’s the case for all of those other vilified carbohydrate-containing foods, too). It means “high-carbohydrate foods = weight gain” is an outdated, oversimplified, and deeply flawed message.
It means that overall diet quality is far more important than any individual food or nutrient we are consuming. A key consideration for the results of this study is that these results were observed when pasta was consumed as part of a low-GI index dietary pattern, which could be indicative of a diet that has a more robust and well-rounded nutrient profile—lots of different fruits, veggies, and satisfying fats and protein—overall. At the very least, low-GI dietary patterns are often more satiating—leading us to feel full and satisfied rather than always wanting more. This in turn can help us to eat in a way that more closely matches our bodies energy needs.
The Bottom Line
No one food or food group is responsible for weight gain or loss, or for better or worse health—we knew that before this study was published. If you like pasta, eat pasta. If you like bread, eat bread.
Really, it’s our diet as a whole—what we eat regularly and over time—that plays a role in determining overall health. What’s more, health isn’t just about diet—movement, self-care, social connection, stress management, sleep hygiene, and many other factors all play a role, too.
If you’ve been struggling with food, if you are concerned about your health, or are just ready to get off the diet roller coaster, Green Mountain at Fox Run can help. We’ve spent over four decades helping women make peace with food, find pleasure in eating, and adopt health-promoting behaviors for life.