Pasta is healthier than you think, and it's even healthier as leftovers: ScienceAlert

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New year, new you, new diet. It’s a familiar refrain. A popular dieting technique is to create a food blacklist. Ditching “carbs” or packaged foods is common, which can mean avoiding supermarket staples like pasta.

But do we really need to ban pasta to improve our diet?

This is what we call a reductionist approach to nutrition, where we describe a food based on just one of its main components. Pasta is not just carbs.

One cup (about 145 grams or 5.1 ounces) of cooked pasta contains about 38 g of carbohydrates, 7.7 g of protein and 0.6 g of fat. In addition, it has all the water that is absorbed in cooking and many vitamins and minerals.

“But pasta is mostly carbs!” I hear you cry. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. We need to think about the context.

Your day on a plate

You probably know that there are recommendations on how much energy (kilojoules or calories) we should take in each day. These recommendations are based on body size, gender and physical activity.

But maybe you don’t realize that there are also recommendations on the macronutrient profile – or types of foods – that provide this energy.

Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are macronutrients. Macronutrients are broken down in the body to produce energy for our bodies.

Acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges describe the proportion or percentage of macronutrients that should provide that energy. These ranges are set by experts based on health outcomes and healthy eating models.

They are intended to ensure that we get enough, but not too much, of each macro. Consuming too much or too little of any type of food can have health consequences.

The proportions are also designed to ensure that we get enough of the vitamins and minerals that come with energy from the foods we normally eat. We should get 45 to 65 percent of our energy from carbohydrates, 10 to 30 percent from protein, and 20 to 35 percent from fat.

noodle mangia

The macronutrient ratios mean that it can be healthy to eat between 1.2 and 6.5 times more carbohydrates in a day than protein – since each gram of protein has the same amount of energy as one gram of carbohydrates.

The ratio of carbohydrates to protein in pasta is 38 g to 7.7 g, which is roughly equivalent to a 5:1 ratio, well within the acceptable range of macronutrient distribution.

Which means the pasta actually has enough protein to balance it with the carbs. This isn’t just because of the eggs in the dough. Wheat is another source of protein, making up about 20% of protein consumed globally.

If you’re concerned about calorie levels and weight gain, that’s not so simple either.

In the context of a healthy diet, people have been shown to lose more weight when their diet includes pasta regularly. And, a systematic review of 10 different studies found that pasta was better for post-meal blood glucose levels than bread or potatoes.

Instead of giving up spaghetti, consider reducing your portion sizes or switching to whole-wheat pasta, which is higher in fiber, has gut health benefits, and can help you feel fuller for longer.

Gluten-free pasta has slightly less protein than wheat pasta. So, despite being healthier for people with gluten intolerance, there are no greater health benefits to switching to gluten-free pasta for most of us.

Spread the pesto and leftovers in Bolognese

Pasta is also not typically eaten on its own. So while some warn of the dangers of blood sugar spikes from eating “pure carbs” (meaning just carbs with no other foods), this typically isn’t a risk for pasta.

When pasta is the mainstay of a meal, it can be a vehicle to help people eat more vegetables in smooth or thick vegetable sauces. For kids (or fussy adults), pasta sauce can be a great place to hide pureed or grated vegetables.

Not eating pasta alone is also important for the protein profile. Plant foods are typically not complete proteins, which means we need to eat combinations of them to get all the different types of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that we need to survive.

But pasta, although we often focus on carbs and energy, packs a nice nutritional punch. Like most foods, it’s not just macronutrients, but micronutrients as well.

One cup of cooked pasta contains about a quarter of our recommended daily intake of vitamins B1 and B9, half of our recommended intake of selenium and 10% of our iron needs.

Pasta novelties are even better when we eat them as leftovers.

When pasta is cooked and cooled, some of the carbohydrates convert to resistant starch. This starch gets its name from being resistant to digestion, so it contributes less energy and is better for blood sugar levels.

So leftover pasta, even if you reheat it, has fewer calories than the night before.

Take a Closer Look at ‘Carb’ Choices

There’s a lot of talk about reducing carb intake for weight loss, but remember that carbs come in different forms and in different foods.

Some of them, like pasta, have other benefits. Others, like cakes and lollipops, add very little else.

When it comes to cutting down on refined carbs, think first about the sweets that are eaten alone, before cutting out the basic carbs that are often served with vegetables – arguably the healthiest food group!The conversation

Emma Beckett, Senior Lecturer (Food Science and Human Nutrition), School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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