What muchmaligned carb staple could actually help you lose weight?
Turns out everyone’s favourite carb has a delicious role to play in your nutrition plan
Pasta has been on the British menu since at least the 14th century, when King Richard II’S chefs included the recipe for a macaroni-lasagne hybrid in the royal cookbook. But when, in the late 1950s, the BBC aired an April Fool’s Day report showing a family harvesting spaghetti from trees, viewers inundated the broadcaster with letters asking where they could buy their own pasta plant.
Six decades later, a less innocuous myth surrounds spaghetti. It has widely been blamed – lumped alongside other refined foods such as white bread and white sugar – for today’s diabetes, obesity and heart disease epidemics. Is pasta a fat-piling “poison”, as tennis player Pat Cash recently claimed? And if so, how did it become the world’s most popular dish?*
Science is on your spag bol’s side. In a study published in the journal BMJ Open, Canadian researchers analysed how pasta affects bodyweight and BMI. They found that test subjects who ate spaghetti instead of other carbs actually lost a small amount of weight. This was attributed to its negligible fat and cholesterol content, and the fact that it’s an excellent source of low-glycaemic carbohydrates: it releases its glucose slowly into the bloodstream, making you feel full for longer. These findings support an earlier report published in Nutrition and Diabetes, in which Italian scientists (perhaps predictably) argued that pasta consumption decreases your chances of obesity.
The problem with spaghetti, then, isn’t that it’s inherently bad for us – it’s that it’s so good, so satisfying, that we’re tempted to fork it down in unhealthy quantities. “We serve… immense portions,” sighed Fred Plotkin, author of The Authentic Pasta Book, back in 1997. Yet even after two decades of wellness culture and carbophobia, we continue to overload our plates. A bolognese in Bologna typically contains 100g of pasta. It’s likely to contain double that here**.
Italians have traditionally lived by what they call “l’arte di arrangiarsi”, or the art of getting by on what you have. This credo manifests on the plate as the celebrated, no-nonsense Mediterranean diet, with a sensible portion of pasta as its centrepiece. So, whether you’re in Rome or Romford, do as the Romans do – and resist the urge to have too much of
a good thing.