In 2002, The New York Times Sunday Magazine cover featured a huge T-bone steak with the headline, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” The story wasn’t really about steak, it was about carbs, and this story led the world down the sad road of fear of carbohydrates and any food that was white!
We at Oldways, along with many nutrition scientists, understood this didn’t make good sense, good science, or good policy. This started us on the happy path of the Healthy Pasta Meal.
Throughout Oldways’ history, we’ve had the pleasure of traveling all over the globe to speak with nutrition scientists, pasta makers, and chefs, to learn about pasta’s history in the Mediterranean Diet. To help stand up against the low-carb fads that threaten long-term health and traditional diets, we organized a scientiﬁc and media conference in Rome to develop a Scientiﬁc Consensus Statement about pasta and health. On the occasion of World Pasta Day in 2010 and 2015, the Consensus Statement was updated to reﬂect new science, and scientists from countries around the world have signed onto it.
Enough history! Here’s what you need to know—the takeaways—the truth about pasta and why the Healthy Pasta Meal is a great choice for everyone.
Optimal health and good nutrition don‘t come from supplements or fad diets—they come from balanced, meals prepared with nutritious, traditional ingredients. Pasta, a slowly digesting carbohydrate food, is the perfect place to start when building a healthy diet, as is it oﬀers your body a steady source of energy, and pairs wonderfully with vegetables, olive oil, and other foods that nourish our bodies. Traditional diets based on whole grains, pasta, beans, seeds, and seasonal produce nurture both healthy people and a healthy planet, and real-world data backs this up. Food lifecycle assessments indicate that the carbon footprint of pasta is much lower than many other foods, especially meat.
The scientiﬁcally proven and much-loved Mediterranean Diet is characterized by a rich variety of seasonal plant foods and regional specialties, but at the foundation of this cuisine are dependable, shelf stable grain foods, like pasta. Highlighting the importance of this traditional dietary pattern, the United Nations Educational, Scientiﬁc and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes the Mediterranean Diet as an element of intangible cultural heritage. Health experts aﬃrm the role of pasta in nutritious, Mediterranean-inspired eating patterns.
Pasta is known as a complex carbohydrate food, because its starch structure digests slowly, keeping you fuller for longer. This is because pasta is low on the glycemic index, meaning that it has a better eﬀect on blood sugar, oﬀering the body a slow and steady source of energy. This is also one of the reasons why pasta is a popular pre-race meal for competitive athletes.
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, beans and olive oil, healthy pasta meals are perfect for those concerned about their weight.
Sumptuous enough to grace the cover of luxury food magazines, yet accessible enough to be used in nutrition assistance programs and budget recipes, pasta is truly a food that brings people together. In 2011, Oxfam conducted an independent survey in 17 countries as part of their campaign to ensure that worldwide everyone has enough to eat. One question in the survey focused on favorite foods. The results? Pasta was named the world’s favorite food, ahead of meat and rice dishes, and pizza!
Now that pasta is being celebrated nationally and internationally (National Pasta Day was Saturday, October 17th and World Pasta Day is October 25th), it is the season to recognize the qualities that make pasta universally loved and scientiﬁcally healthy.
Pasta is a versatile food that pairs beautifully with vegetables, fresh herbs, olive oil, and other healthy Mediterranean ingredients. It’s no surprise then, that a new study ﬁnds that people who eat pasta also tend to have an overall healthier diet compared with people who don’t eat pasta, including eating more ﬁber, iron, magnesium, and other important nutrients.
This certainly squares with what David Katz, MD, MPH, founder of the True Health Initiative and a Preventive Medicine specialist and globally recognized authority on lifestyle medicine, said at a 2017 conference in Milan, celebrating World Pasta Day, “If what we mean by best diet is a basic dietary pattern, then, yes, absolutely we can say what’s best—a plant-based diet, real food, close to nature,” said Katz. “You don’t have to eat pasta to have an optimal diet and optimal health, but you can. And since you can, why wouldn’t you?”
Or take the word of an Italian physician and nutrition researcher, Dr. Gabriele Riccardi of Federico II University in Naples, “All carbohydrates are not alike and do not have equal metabolic eﬀects. Pasta, for instance, is a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index that promotes good health. Low glycemic foods reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve blood lipids and inﬂammatory markers and reduce the risk of diabetes and overweight.”
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