Pasta is a Pillar of the Mediterranean Diet   
June 2016 
Welcome to the new issue of The Truth About Pasta, the newsletter from the International Pasta Organization. Each 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 more topics and information.

Pasta was born in the Mediterranean, and as such, it holds a prized place in the iconic Mediterranean diet, an internationally recognized eating pattern that features fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, olive oil, fish, red wine, and traditionally produced cheeses. Research on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet began with Ancel Keys in the mid 20th century, and continues today with clinical trials, like the PREDIMED study, and anthropologic investigations, such as the   Blue Zones project. For centuries, fresh and flavorful meals have been fueling Mediterranean families, with pasta playing an irreplaceable role.

In Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food, historians Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, write that "Pasta, especially dried pasta, is the staple foodstuff of the Italians, and it truly is the foundation of their culinary culture, which transcends the decidedly entrenched regionalisms of the peninsula." Venture outside of Italy, and you'll find that Mediterranean specialties, like healthy pasta meals, are a core component of the delicious and nutritious Mediterranean diet, whether they're dressed with tomatoes and Spanish spices, or Greek olives and feta.

Experts Say
In an interview with Oldways, U.S. journalist and food systems expert Michael Pollan explains that "The Med diet seems to me entirely consistent with the "eat food, [not too much, mostly plants]" approach. The food is real -- i.e. plants and animals humans have been eating for a long time, and plants are an important part of it."

Indeed, when nutrition experts counsel patients that struggle with weight management, or are at risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet is one of their favorite recommendations. That's because the Mediterranean diet has decades of research supporting its benefits, with promising new studies being released left and right. In a new study published this month, following nearly 4,000 adults for 5 years, people on a Mediterranean diet lost significantly more weight than those on a low fat diet. Similarly, in an April 2016 study of more than 15,000 adults from 39 countries, researchers found that each 1 point increase on the Mediterranean diet score was linked with a 7-10% lower risk of major heart problems (like heart attack, stroke, or death).

Pasta certainly plays an important role in delicious and nutritious Mediterranean cuisine. In fact, in a new British Medical Journal study, pasta was linked with a lower risk of death from all causes (as was whole grain bread, whole great cereals, total grains, and total bread). Part of what sets pasta apart from other grain foods is its unique structure. In a The Atlantic article, Dr. Furio Brighenti explains "how food structures affect the absorption of starches into sugars," which he has seen through studies of various types of pastas. "Even though they are made of the same thing, we absorb them differently." Perhaps then, it is no surprise that in a study of more than 10,000 U.S. adults, pasta eaters were found to eat significantly more fiber (about 2g per day) than pasta avoiders, and that "pasta, noodles, and cooked grains (excluding non pasta grains)" was linked with significantly better diet quality. 

Did You Know?

Pasta in the Mediterranean predates Marco Polo's trip from China, and has been nourishing Mediterranean people since as early as the Middle Ages. A legend, helped along by the 1938 film, "The Adventures of Marco Polo" starring Gary Cooper, which took literary license in depicting the great traveler bringing spaghetti to Italy for the first time (around 1300). In fact, pasta dates back to ancient Etruscan civilizations. Ancestors made pasta by grinding several cereals and grains and then mixing them with water before cooking the mixture into a tasty and nutritious food product. The Italian version of noodles -- pasta made with durum wheat -- had been produced in Sicily for two centuries before Marco Polo made his way back from China.

Recipe of the Month

Fresh Sun Dried Tomato Penne Pasta  
Some of the most satisfying pasta dishes are unbelievably simple. In this recipe, the vegetables steam and cheese melts from the heat of freshly cooked pasta, with no need for an extra sauce pot on the stove.

¾ pound penne pasta, preferably whole grain
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 large handfuls (about 4 cups) baby spinach leaves
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, in salted water.
  2. Mix the sun dried tomatoes, pepper, spinach, garlic, and olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the other ingredients and toss together. Add half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Garnish with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Nutritional Analysis
Per serving: Calories: 540; Total Fat: 16g; Sat. Fat: 5g; Sodium: 500mg;
Carbohydrates: 79g; Fiber: 6g; Protein: 21g

Yield: 4 Servings

Recipe courtesy of Oldways.

Video of the Month  

In this TED-Ed Original lesson video, Mia Nacamulli explains
how to figure out what's actually healthy, and not fall
for advertising traps claiming quick fixes.

How to Spot a Fad Diet

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