Convinced that pasta will make you fat? If so, you might be surprised to hear that people in Italy eat pasta nearly every day yet have some of the lowest rates of obesity in the world. In fact, Italians enjoy more than three times the amount of pasta we consume in the U.S., while remaining significantly svelter than we are.
What’s more, a study published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes found that Italians who ate a traditional Mediterranean diet (largely plant-based with pasta, produce, fish, whole grains and healthy oils) were thinner and had smaller waistlines than those who didn’t follow the traditional eating pattern of the region.
Here are some tips for enjoying pasta the Italian way:
Make it ‘al dente’: The Italian term al dente literally means ‘to the tooth’ or firm to the bite. Italians cook their pasta so that it is firm (but not too hard). This way, it not only tastes perfect, it has a lower glycemic index (GI) than when it’s cooked to be soft. The average GI of al dente penne pasta is 50, which is even lower than the GI of oatmeal. A lower GI can help keep blood sugar levels stable so you will stay fuller, longer.
Go Mediterranean: Make pasta part of a Mediterranean pattern of eating. A recent study published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition, found that less than one in five Americans (17.3 percent) eats pasta in the Mediterranean way, which means an eating pattern that’s high in fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy, whole grains, and plant-based proteins. The researchers noted that those who ate pasta as part of a more traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern had overall diet quality scores that were significantly higher than those who didn’t eat pasta.
The study also found that most Americans who eat pasta had a low consumption of fruit, fish, and whole grains and lower diet quality overall.
Serve a perfect portion: The U.S. is famous for large portions, but huge portions – of almost any food – can lead to weight gain. A healthy serving of pasta is about the size of a baseball. If you’re eating out, chances are you’ll be served something closer to a softball-sized pasta portion – or more. When portions are large, split an order with a friend or ask for a box for leftovers.
Top it right: Pasta can be the perfect ‘base’ for incorporating more healthy veggies, legumes, and plant-based oils into your diet. Serve it with seasonal vegetables, beans, and a dash of olive oil and seasonings rather than saturated fat-rich full-fat cheese, cream-based sauces or high-fat meats.