Contrary to popular belief, pasta consumption does not make you fat, according to research into a staple of the Mediterranean – and much of the Western – diet.
Researchers in Italy studied over 23,000 people in Italy and found that higher pasta intake was not associated with a raised body mass index (BMI) – widely used as a measurement of a person's body fat, based on a person's height and weight – and waist-to-hip ratio.
"As a traditional component of the Mediterranean diet, pasta consumption was negatively associated with body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity," researchers found, according to the results of the study published in the Nutrition and Diabetes journal on Monday.
Pasta is a staple of the Italian diet and has become popular around the world as a quick and easy source of carbohydrates. Like other forms of carbs, however, it has also been demonized as calorific and lacking nutrition and many diets eschew pasta.
The latest research was carried out by the IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed which compared results from participants in the Molise region of Italy with another group of people from the rest of Italy, who were separately analyzed by the Italian Nutrition & Health Survey project (INHES).
"Our findings show a negative association of pasta consumption with general and central obesity in two methodologically and geographically different, large Mediterranean populations," the researchers said, noting that there had been a movement, even in Italy, against pasta.
"In the last decades in Italy, despite the strong effort to promote the Mediterranean diet, a progressive change occurred in eating habits. Pasta consumption has been decreased, as a concept of low carbohydrate and high protein diet against obesity emerged. However, the debate of hypo-caloric high protein diets versus low fat and standard carbohydrate diets in the management of body weight and the health implications (that is, kidney function, bone health) is still open," they said.
"On the contrary, adherence to the Mediterranean diet according to epidemiological and clinical evidence has a protective role on overweight and obesity, in parallel with important health benefits against chronic diseases and related comorbidities," the researchers said, adding that such a diet could be the basis for "establishing nutrition guidelines as an outcome of health policies."
The research could prove useful to public health bodies having to deal with a surge in weight-related medical conditions.
According to government body Public Health England, obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of three years, or eight to ten years in the case of severe obesity (BMI over 40). It also noted on its website that around 8 percent of annual deaths in Europe (at least one in 13) have been attributed to overweight and obesity. The Local Government Association said in a study on obesity last year that £5 billion ($6.57 billion) is spent each year in the U.K. on health problems associated with obesity although the indirect costs are higher.
The Italian researchers noted that their evidence correlated to a study in the U.S. and Greece that pasta, and carbohydrates in general, were not associated with getting fat.
"Our results are in agreement with a relatively recent study examining food and nutrient intakes in association with BMI in 1794 US middle-aged adults, showing that pasta intake among other food groups is negatively associated with BMI. Moreover, evidence from Greek islands supports a favorable role of carbohydrate intake on central and general obesity."