It’s probably surprising to no one that as an Italian and a huge fan of the Mediterranean diet, I love pasta dishes. Having grown up with them, experimented with recipes for them, and enjoyed them for decades I know firsthand how delicious and healthy they can be. But over the past few years, I’ve increasingly seen pasta listed as an unhealthy food. Since today is World Pasta Day, I thought it’s be the perfect time to get a few things straight about this humble staple…
Pasta = carbs. Carbs = bad. Right?
These days it’s become really common to see pasta listed alongside other high carb foods like white bread, cakes, and biscuits as foods to avoid if you want to prevent obesity, diabetes, and all kinds of other health problems.
To someone who eats pasta in various shapes and forms a couple of times a week, this is completely baffling — how did pasta move from being a major component of the healthy Mediterranean diet to being a demonised culprit in the global rise of obesity?
Here’s the truth:
Pasta is high in carbs, which is why it’s been labelled as “unhealthy”. But there are huge differences between different types of carbs. The flours used to make industrial scale products like white bread, cakes, and biscuits are completely different from the flour that’s used to make good pasta, which is 100% semolina from Durum wheat.
Durum is an ancient type of grain that is a hybrid of wild grasses with a high protein content. Pasta that’s made from Durum wheat has a remarkably low glycemic index (GI) — in fact, it’s as low as some fruits and vegetables, meaning that it’s a healthy carb choice. Unless you’re a coeliac or you have a severe intolerance to gluten, there’s no scientifically based evidence for cutting good quality pasta out of your life.
So are there actually any problems with pasta?
Not really. But there are problems with how we consume it. Pre-made sauces swimming in salt and sugar and the chemically laden fatty goo that is tinned pasta are, unsurprisingly, not healthy. But a freshly cooked bowl of spaghetti tossed in olive oil with roasted seasonal vegetables is not only delicious, but also very good for you. So much so that studies show that pasta eaten with a salad makes you feel fuller for longer on less calories.
Let’s look at people who eat pasta the most — Italians. Pasta’s an Italian staple, and has been since the 12th century. It hasn’t changed much over the past 800 years, and most Italians eat pasta at least several days out of the week. Yet the OECD obesity survey in 2014 found that Italy has one of the lowest overall obesity levels in Europe … except when you get to children, who have started eating the processed fast food and ready-made meals.
Let’s get back to basics.
Eat pasta like an Italian! Always buy pasta made in Italy from 100% Durum wheat if you can. In Italy the production of pasta is tightly controlled by laws guaranteeing that it’s only made from 100% Durum wheat flour.
Also, make your own sauces. It’s easy, allows you total control of what goes over your pasta, and you’ll save money too. And finally, as with everything, eat pasta in moderation — 125g of dried pasta is enough to make an ample main meal.