As low-carb diets have gained popularity over the last two decades, many people have completely given up carbohydrate-rich foods, thinking they’ll contribute to weight gain. Turns out, eating the once-vilified pasta may actually help you lose weight, according to a new study published in BMJ Open.
Although people tend to lump all refined carbs together — pasta, white bread, white rice, pastries, and simple sugars — as foods that will spike your blood sugar and cause you to gain weight, pasta has a low glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index rates foods based on how quickly they are converted into sugar and absorbed in your bloodstream on a scale from zero to 100; a GI of one to 55 is low, 56 to 69 is medium, and 70 to 100 is high. White spaghetti, for example, only has a GI of 49.
Researchers at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto assessed how pasta affected weight by examining 30 randomized control trials involving nearly 2,500 people who ate a low-glycemic-index diet and replaced other carbohydrates with pasta. The participants ate an average of 3.3 servings of pasta (about a half cup) a week. Over the median follow-up of 12 weeks, the participants lost an average of half a kilogram, or about 1.1 pounds. The researchers also found that eating pasta didn’t increase body fat or BMI.
“The study found that pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat,” lead author Dr. John Sievenpiper said, according to a press release. “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.”
There are other factors to consider before tucking into a plate of pasta, however. “It’s true pasta has a lower glycemic index when eaten alone. The problem with pasta is that it is a vehicle for sauces such as alfredo and high-calorie cheeses,” Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, told POPSUGAR. “Oftentimes, people eat too much of it. If it is portioned out and eaten along with healthy marinara sauce and 96 percent lean beef meatballs, for example, it can be a healthy option.”
The participants, on average, stuck to just one half-cup serving of pasta at a time only a few times a week and ate an overall low-GI diet. Pasta can absolutely be a part of a healthy diet — just be sure you are measuring out your portions, not loading up on high-calorie sauces, and limit foods that will spike your blood sugar.