Noodle lovers everywhere recently rejoiced over the news: According to science, pastawon’t make you fat!
In a study of more than 23,000 Italians, researchers found that people who ate the most pasta tended to have lower BMIs and healthier waist circumferences compared to people who ate the least. The findings, published in the journal Nature, prove once and for all that pasta isn’t bad for your weight. Right?
Well, not really. Because the study only looked at associations, it doesn’t actually prove anything. What’s more, there are some very important details that are worth talking about before you start scarfing down spaghetti and meatballs or cacio e pepe for dinner every night of the week.
Like what? Just consider the following.
It’s still not okay to scarf down an entire platter of pasta.
It’s no secret that Europeans—including Italians—tend to eat much smaller portion sizes than Americans. In fact, the average size of a serving of pasta in the study was just 3 ounces. But here in the U.S., it’s the norm to eat much more than that, both at restaurants and at home.
The point is, there’s nothing inherently fattening about pasta, as long as you stick to a normal portion. But in this country, most people don’t. And if you regularly scarf down half a box in one meal, you might end up with a problem. So familiarize yourself with what a reasonable serving size actually looks like: A half-cup serving is roughly the amount that would fit in a cupped palm. Then, go ahead and revel in all your rigatoni, ziti, and macaroni glory.
What else you eat matters, too.
The slim pasta eaters weren’t eating much in the way of mac and cheese or fettuccine chicken alfredo. Instead, they stuck mostly to a Mediterranean diet—which included lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and fish, and only a smattering of dairy and meat.
In other words, even if they sometimes ate pasta made from refined white flour, the rest of their meals—and their diets overall—consisted mostly of nutrient-dense foods, not junk. The lesson? Have your spaghetti with plenty of vegetables and lean protein, and a smidge of cheese or butter—not the other way around. Not only will it keep your plate from getting too calorie-dense, the extra fiber and protein will also make your noodles more filling.
Now, armed with all the facts, go forth and eat those noodles.