Pasta Does Not Make You Fat   


June 2015  


Welcome to the this issue of The Truth About Pasta, the new monthly newsletter from the International Pasta Organization. Each month's newsletter features a new and different topic -- all pointing to The Truth About Pasta. The truth is......pasta is healthy, sustainable, convenient, delicious, affordable, doesn't make you fat, and much, much more. Be sure to look for each new issue, with new topics and information.


Evidence that Pasta
Does Not Make You Fat


While pop-science books and bloggers have promoted carb-fearing and nutrition confusion among consumers, there is no reason to be afraid of healthy carbohydrates, like pasta. The truth is that eating too much of almost everything can make you fat.


Weight problems are almost never the fault of one food; it's total diet and lifestyle that matter. And, because pasta is traditionally served with other wholesome foods, including vegetables and olive oil, healthy pasta meals are perfect for those concerned about their weight. No wonder that scientists recognize the role that the Mediterranean Diet, including pasta, plays in changing lifelong eating habits for the healthier!


Like all foods, pasta should be served in the right portion, and eaten mindfully. According to most dietitians, a healthy serving of pasta for an adult is one-half to two-thirds cup of cooked pasta (70-95g), which is much less than most people are used to seeing on their plates and in restaurants! With a much lower glycemic index (a measure of how foods affect blood sugar) than other grain-based foods, pasta starts off healthy. Then, with the addition of vegetables, legumes, healthy oils, fish and other healthy foods, it transforms into a complete and balanced healthy pasta meal.


Pasta itself does not make you fat, as many clinical trials confirm that excess calories, and not carbohydrates, are responsible for obesity. Diets successful in promoting weight loss can emphasize a range of healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat, but all three of these macronutrients are necessary, in balance, for optimal nutrition. Indeed, the World Health Organization and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization confirm that that carbohydrate-containing foods like pasta are a necessary part of a healthy diet. In fact, the consensus among nutrition scientists worldwide is that carbohydrates should account for 45-60 percent of your daily calories; fat should take 25-30 percent; and proteins 15-20 percent.

Experts Say...

Prof. Pietro Antonio Migliaccio (left) is a nutritionist, gastroenterologist and President of the Italian Society of Food Science and Nutrition (SISA), as well as member of the IPO Scientific Advisory Committee. He affirms that "Pasta is part of the Mediterranean tradition and its presence on our tables allows us to follow a healthy, proper and balanced diet. Contrary to what many people think, pasta not only provides carbohydrates (79.1 g per 100 g), but also supplies vegetable proteins (between 11 and 13 g per 100 g, depending on its "variety") and a small quantity of lipids (1.4 g per 100 g). Moreover, it is rich in B vitamins; contains little sodium and no cholesterol. Its energy value is 356 kcal per 100 g. Pasta is the most appreciated among the grains, which are the main source of energy in the Mediterranean diet..."

"Therefore - continues Prof. Migliaccio - it is absolutely false that pasta is fattening; on the contrary, it is important to remember that overweight and obesity set in when the total food intake is greater than an individual's energy need. Therefore, everything depends on the portions that we consume and on the lifestyle that we adopt. Eighty grams of pasta, seasoned according to the Mediterranean tradition with tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil and grated cheese, do not provide any more calories than a serving of meat or cheese with vegetables and bread. Complex carbohydrates provided by cereals, and therefore also by pasta, are the main source of energy for our brain, muscles, red blood cells and internal organs, providing a boost of energy that is essential for our daily activities. Without carbohydrates - I dare say without pasta - a diet is neither balanced nor complete. If we then add a small quantity of animal protein or legumes to pasta, we put together the nutritional qualities of these foods in a "single course", a classic of the Mediterranean diet."

As Prof. Pietro Antonio Migliaccio explains above, it is clear that we can lose weight! After all, we must not forget that weight loss, in most cases, is in our hands. For this reason we must be willing to utilize the appropriate means, including practicing portion control, choosing more traditional pasta pairings (like tomatoes, olive oil, and vegetables), and pursuing a more active lifestyle.

Nutrition scientists recognize pasta meals for their place in healthy eating patterns, such as the "gold standard" Mediterranean Diet. If you'd like to learn more about how pasta can star in a weight loss diet, be sure to browse our online health summaries. Below is a snippet from our Pasta and Weight Management Toolkit, highlighting the role of carbohydrate foods (like pasta) in weight management.
  • Lower Carb Diets Linked To Obesity. A Canadian Community Health Survey of 4,451 Canadian adults concluded that consuming a lower-carbohydrate diet (a diet with less than 47% carbs) is associated with a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese, among healthy, free-living adults. The lowest risk of excess weight was for those consuming 290 to 310 grams of carbohydrates per day. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009; 109(7): 1165-72.
  • Low Carb Diets May Be Harmful. University of Colorado researchers randomly assigned 32 healthy obese adults to either a high fat (low carb) or a high carb (low fat) diet for six weeks. They found that weight loss was similar between both diets, but the high fat (low carb) diet increased LDL ("bad") cholesterol. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2010; 91(3):578-85.
  • Med Diet May Slow Down Weight Gain. Some of us may notice a few extra pounds appear on the scale as we get older. Is this just the reality of getting older? A new study, which followed 10,376 Spanish men and women for about 6 years, has found that following the Mediterranean Diet eating pattern may slow down the weight gain normally observed with age. In fact, people with the lowest Med Diet score gained the most weight each year. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. December 2010; 92(6): 1484-93 [Epub Oct 20, 2010]

In 2010, nutrition researchers from four continents met to discuss pasta and health, and they concluded that, "Healthy pasta meals are a delicious way to eat more vegetables, legumes and other healthy foods often under-consumed," which is especially important for those struggling with weight. Similarly, nutrition and weight loss researcher Marta Garaulet Aza (left), of the University of Murcia and Garaulet Cinics in Spain, explains that "The Mediterranean Diet, which has a high proportion of carbs... is good to prevent obesity, is good to treat obesity, and is also especially good because its related to a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity."

Like some other delicious foods, pasta has untruthfully been made a scapegoat for weight gain. However, the truth is that pasta has a low glycemic index, meaning that it doesn't spike blood sugar as much as other grain foods. One of the key points of the Scientific Consensus Statement on Pasta (signed at the 2010 World Pasta Congress, described above) is that "pasta meals and other low-glycemic foods may help control blood sugar and weight especially in overweight people."

One reason for these benefits is because the starch present in pasta is digested very slowly, so it provides the prolonged feeling of fullness or satiety familiar to all pasta lovers. Additionally, eating pasta at one meal lowers blood glucose and insulin responses at the next meal. Thus, pasta has the potential to satisfy taste buds and provide a sense of fullness so that less is eaten at the subsequent meal.
Mothers Say...

Moms are honoring the food traditions of previous generations by feeding their kids pasta meals, instead of empty-calorie junk foods. As registered dietitian and author Keri Gans recalls of her childhood eating habits, "My mom had a full-time job, yet we ate together as a family promptly at 6 just about every night. Long before I knew what a balanced meal looked like, I was eating one." Now, as an adult, Gans is incorporating many of her childhood traditions.

One winning strategy is to start every supper with a salad. According to Gans, "No matter what we had for dinner, we always started with a salad. I was actually the one in charge of making them in high school, because my mother worked full time. I would cater to everyone's individual preferences, like who likes onion and who doesn't, but no matter what, I found it was an easy thing to do. To this day, I make a salad every night or order one as an appetizer in restaurants." Gans also emphasizes to parents that meals should be balanced. Growing up in her home, "Every meal had a vegetable, protein and carbohydrate through a combination like veal cutlets with spaghetti and spinach.."
Similar rules apply to eating out. In an interview with SuperKids Nutrition, Gans shares her typical restaurant meal order that isn't over-loaded with calories:

"Whenever I dine out for dinner I start with a mixed green salad, make sure it has tomatoes and onions, and ask for vinaigrette on the side. I love pasta - so I usually choose it served with veggies and either a tomato or olive oil base and request that beans be added (but not always possible). If I have a feeling the serving is going to be huge I ask for a half order and order a side of spinach or broccoli saut?ed in garlic and oil."

Continuing the Tradition

Pasta is a food with a centuries-old history, while obesity problems have only reached an epidemic level in recent decades. As we look back to our healthier, slimmer ancestors, we see that pasta is a powerhouse in its worldwide contributions to nutrition. Hundreds of years ago, when pasta was first rising in popularity in the Mediterranean, and across the globe, people didn't suffer from weight-related chronic diseases at the same rates that we do today.

Traditional pasta meals represent an eating style from a simpler time, when grain foods (like pasta), beans, and seasonal vegetables played starring roles, and foods like cheese, or meat were used sparingly, as a garnish. Additionally, our pasta loving ancestors were not exposed to the multitude of highly processed junk foods that we are bombarded with today, another contributor of weight gain and obesity. For a joyful balance of pleasure and health, continue the cultural tradition of eating a variety of plant-based, nutrient rich foods, including pasta, and watch your waistline reap the benefits!

Pasta for Children Around the World

Teaching children about pasta means continuing good traditions. By promoting healthy pasta meals, parents can teach children to stay away from junk food and enjoy healthy cooking instead. To awaken children's excitement for food and cooking, download our "Pasta for Children Around the World" curriculum, available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Video of the Month

This month at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum, a conference dedicated to promoting healthy, sustainable eating, Dr. David Katz, President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, warned against the dangers of fad diets and nutrition confusion and explained that experts "all seem to agree that we need a more plant based diet," . You can read Dr. Katz's accompanying article here.

Recipe of the Month

Pasta with Spring Herbs
500 grams (about 1 pound) any short shape pasta
1 big bunch mixed herbs
4 cloves spring garlic (or regular garlic)
80 milliliters (? cup) olive oil
Ricotta salata (about 100g, or 3.5 ounces)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. I used a mixture of herbs from my garden: sage, rosemary, marjoram, parsley, laurel, chives, laurel, mint, basil. But use whatever is on hand, but only fresh, not dried.
  2. Prepare the herbs: separate the leaves from the stems of herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, etc. Place on a cutting board with the garlic and using a knife chop finely.
  3. If you are using basil or chives, chop those and keep them separate to add the end.
  4. If you are using laurel, leave these leaves whole.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, over low heat. Add the garlic and herb mixture and laurel if using and heat very gently, until the garlic is cooked through and the herbs are fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water
  7. Place the cooked pasta into the pan with the herb mixture and heat through, adding a bit of the cooking water and stirring. At the very end, add the fresh herbs, stir and serve topped with the grated ricotta salata.

Nutritional Analysis:
Calories: 460, Total Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Sodium: 160mg, Carbohydrate: 64g, Fiber: 3g, Protein: 13g

Yield: 6 servings

Recipe and photo courtesy of Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome.


                  For more information, contact
                  Francesca Ronca

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