Finally, some good news about everyone's favorite carb.
The research, which comes from (we can only assume) carb-loving study authors at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, examined the results from 30 different studies of people who eat pasta as part of a low glycemic index diet. On average, the pasta-eaters downed roughly a half-cup of noodles three times a week. Not only did they not gain weight, they actually lost a teeny bit—about one pound after 12 weeks.
"The study found that pasta didn't contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat," lead author John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, a clinician scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a statement. "In fact, analysis actually showed a small weight loss. So contrary to concerns, perhaps pasta can be part of a healthy diet such as a low GI diet."
Here's the catch (c'mon, you knew it was coming): Don’t skim over that low GI part. Foods that rank high on the glycemic index cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, potentially leaving you feeling hungry shortly after eating. Low GI foods—those with a glycemic index score under 55—do the opposite, changing your blood sugar more gradually to keep you feeling full for longer, thereby helping you eat less and, potentially, shed pounds. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and sweet potatoes are just a few naturally low GI foods you’re probably already eating.
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The researchers (some of whom have received funding from Barilla in the past, it should be noted) pointed out that pasta is often lower on the glycemic index than other foods made with refined grains, like white bread. Still, this particular study, published in BMJ Open, only tells us about eating pasta in the context of an all-around low GI diet.
Sadly, this isn’t permission to make bottomless spaghetti a regular routine. “Future trials should assess the effect of pasta in the context of other ‘healthy’ dietary patterns,” the authors wrote. They also noted that we still need long-term research examining how dieters fare after a year or more on low GI diets that include pasta.
Following a low GI diet isn’t a magic bullet, as Health’s contributing nutrition Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, previously wrote. For starters, plenty of obviously nutritious foods happen to have a high GI score. “Many super-healthy eats also rank high on the scale, while some less nutritious fare falls low,” Sass explained. “One great example: watermelon. It's rich in healthy antioxidants like lycopene, and yet it's higher on the GI than sponge cake!”
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Previous research suggests pasta may also contribute to weight loss when it's part of a Mediterranean diet. But no matter how the rest of your diet stacks up, it can't hurt to employ a few smart tactics to make your favorite noodle dishes work even better for you. For starters, stick to portion sizes around half a cup. Consider white-flour pasta alternatives like whole-wheat or quinoa noodles for a boost of filling fiber. And don’t overcook your pasta. Noodles have the lowest score on the glycemic index when they're al dente—aka slightly firm.