Refined (or processed) grains have seen their share of negative news headlines lately. With so many talking heads vilifying "white carbs," it's easy to be confused. To set the facts straight, we turn to science, where the unique health benefits of pasta are supported by sound research.
Nutrition experts routinely recommend a balance of both whole and enriched grains to ensure a nutritionally complete diet that provides the essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. (Phytonutrients are the health-protective substances in plant foods – fruits, vegetables and grains – that promote health and help reduce risk of chronic disease.)
Pasta is a perfect foundation for healthy, nutritious and satisfying meals: Pasta is generally eaten with nutrient-dense food partners, such as fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheese, poultry and lean meats.
More facts you didn’t know about pasta:
- Carbohydrates like pasta provide glucose, the crucial fuel for your brain and muscles. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow release of energy. Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick, yet fleeting boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.
- Pasta is very low in sodium and cholesterol-free. Per cup, enriched varieties provide a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins. Whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25% of daily fiber requirements in every one cup portion.
- Enriched pasta is fortified with folic acid – essential for women of child-bearing age. FDA regulations require enriched grain products to contain this essential vitamin. A serving of dry pasta supplies the equivalent of roughly 100 micrograms of folic acid, or 25% of the recommended daily intake. Read more about the importance of folic acid here.
- Pasta is part of a well-balanced diet. Current dietary guidance calls for up to 65% of daily calories to come from carbohydrates.
- It’s a fact: reducing calories, not carbohydrates, helps you lose weight. Studies show there are no significant differences in weight loss over the long term between low-carbohydrate diets and those considered “high” carbohydrate when dieters achieved similar calorie reductions.
- Pasta has a low Glycemic Index (GI) so it does not cause sugar in the blood to rise quickly. The GI measures how rapidly a carbohydrate triggers a rise in blood sugar – the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response.
Healthy Pasta Meals and The Mediterranean Diet
Pasta meals are efficient “delivery systems” for healthy foods. Pasta is eaten with its plate partners, such as vegetables, fish, olive oil, cheese, tomato sauce, beans, poultry and meat. By pairing pasta with ingredients, the complete pasta meal is nutritious and satisfying. Pasta meals are central to the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by abundant variety of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, other forms of cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds), olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt), fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of death from heart disease and cancer. Cereals, which include pasta, are an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Click here for more information on the Mediterranean Diet.
Most international dietary guidelines define a well-balanced diet as an eating pattern that provides 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, 15-20% from protein, and 30-35% from fats.
Pasta's Famous Palatability
Pasta meals are comfort food for families and especially for children (macaroni and cheese); treasured by gastronomes (pasta e pesto); wonderful in movies (Moonstruck); and popular all over the world.
In one form or another, pasta is a staple in family meals around the globe.