Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
5 Ways to Lose Weight with Pasta
Everyone knows pasta causes weight gain. Would you be surprised to learn that scientific studies show the opposite? In this article, I cover the latest pasta study and share five ways to lose weight with pasta.
The Latest Pasta Study
In a study published this week in the prestigious British Medical Journal, researchers from Canada pooled together the results of 32 studies looking at 2,448 people. And what they found goes against what you read in all of the popular health books…
When carefully analyzing the results of 32 different studies of 2,448 pasta eating people, these researchers found that eating pasta, as part of an otherwise healthy diet, doesn’t cause weight gain. In fact, those eating pasta every day actually lost about one pound provided pasta was part of a healthy diet.
How Can this Study Be True?
This study must be wrong. Everyone knows pasta makes you gain weight. Let me give you four reasons why this study may be right.
1. Pasta is relatively low on the glycemic index.
The glycemic index measures how fast food is converted to sugar in the body. Foods high on the list, like bread, are instantly converted to sugar.
White bread has a glycemic index in the high 70s. Even “healthy” whole wheat bread also has a glycemic index score in the high 70s. These high glycemic scores tell us that the standard store-bought bread is little more than just sugar.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have foods like nuts which have almost no sugar response in the body. With nuts, the glycemic index will typically be under 20.
Pasta, surprisingly, has a relatively low glycemic index score in the 40s. Thus, it is somewhere between bread and nuts when it comes to how fast it is converted to sugar in the body. Foods with a low glycemic index are generally healthier and promote weight loss as they are much more filling and don’t throw off your metabolism.
2. Pasta Portion Sizes were Controlled.
While the portion sizes of pasta varied in these 32 studies, in general, a reasonable portion size is about the size of your fist. These studies didn’t include the massive pasta bowls that you might see in a typical U.S. restaurant.
3. What You Put on the Pasta Matters
It should come as no surprise that a lot of the 32 studies came from Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Thus, pasta sauce using tomatoes, vegetables, and olive oil were common. It wasn’t a big bowl of cheesy pasta like you might see at the Olive Garden restaurant.
4. It Matters What the Rest of Your Diet Looks Like
As mentioned, only those who ate an otherwise healthy diet didn’t gain weight with pasta. If the rest of your diet is healthy, pasta won’t cause weight gain.
5 Ways to Lose Weight with Pasta
Depending on where your current diet is at, let me suggest five ways to lose weight with pasta. I have listed these in order of their nutritional value and the likelihood that you will lose weight with pasta.
1. Use Vegetable Noodles
Using fresh vegetables as your noodles is clearly the healthiest option. Zucchini, carrots, squash, cucumbers, or sweet potatoes can easily be cut into spirals with a machine to create incredibly healthy pasta.
While vegetable noodles are off the charts nutritionally, there are a few downsides. First, you need a vegetable noodle maker. For about $15 you can get one of these at Walmart or on Amazon. For those of you who don’t want to use a machine to cut up your veggies into noodle strips, Whole Foods always has fresh vegetable noodles available, but you will definitely pay for this convenience.
Second, vegetable pasta doesn’t taste like regular pasta. It is for this reason that I struggle with vegetable noodles.
Don’t be fooled by a little spinach in your typical pasta. That little bit of spinach doesn’t do anything to the nutritional aspect of your pasta. If you want the best pasta when it comes to nutrition, it has to be all vegetables.
2. Bean Pasta
The second healthiest way to eat pasta is to use a bean pasta. Fortunately, bean pasta comes much closer to the taste and texture of traditional pasta.
Almost any bean can be made into pasta. With bean pasta, you are going to get an even lower glycemic index number. Also, with a bean pasta, you will get a ton of protein and fiber as well to fill you up.
If you want to give bean pasta a try, Amazon has many choices. Also, health food stores, like Whole Foods, has many bean pasta options.
3. Quinoa Pasta
Down one level from bean pasta is quinoa pasta. While you won’t get as much protein and fiber as with a bean pasta, it is still probably better for you than wheat pasta. Also, for those wishing to avoid gluten, this is another option.
4. Turn Regular Pasta into a Resistant Starch
Number four on the list is to take your regular pasta and turn it into a resistant starch. While this doesn’t boost the nutritional content, it does put the pasta even lower on the glycemic index.
With a resistant starch, you are making the pasta even harder for your body to convert to sugar. This slow-burning carb helps to keep you full and won’t lead to a sugar/insulin crash.
To convert your pasta to a resistant starch, simply put your cooked pasta in the fridge overnight. The process of cooking, cooling, and then cooking again converts it to a resistant starch.
5. Replace Bread with Pasta
Last on the list if you want to lose weight with pasta is to simply replace bread with regular pasta. Nutritionally they are about the same. However, because even regular pasta is so much lower from a glycemic standpoint than bread, you are much less likely to mess up your metabolism.
The Big Picture
Pasta can be incredibly healthy if eaten right. Even the standard pasta is probably “less bad” for you than eating bread. Of course this also depends on what you put on your pasta…a big portion size or that cheesy sauce could completely undo any possible benefit.
When it comes to optimizing your metabolism, you want all of your foods to be at least less than 50 on the glycemic index. To learn where your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index, here is a great chart from Harvard University.
Do you have any “pasta hacks” to make pasta healthy? Please leave your tips below.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.