Niki Bezzant: Shock news: pasta doesn't make you thin!

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Eating pasta as a small part of a  meal, as Italians tend to, is a healthy choice. Photo / Getty Images
Eating pasta as a small part of a meal, as Italians tend to, is a healthy choice. Photo / Getty Images

It was the perfect news to show up in my inbox after my lunch of leftover spaghetti. "Pasta doesn't make you fat!" the headline said.

Sure enough, an Italian study involving data from more than 20,000 people has good news for spaghetti lovers.

The researchers found those who ate more pasta and stuck more to a Mediterranean diet were likely to have a lower BMI, waist and hip circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

Of course, this immediately showed up in the news as "Pasta helps weight loss".

Although many of us would love it to be a magical weight-loss food, we know that's unlikely. And this research did not say that. Only the Daily Mail made that particular leap.

The study found an association between eating pasta and lower BMI - but not a causal relationship.

In other words, eating pasta does not make you thinner, but people who eat pasta as part of a traditional-style Mediterranean diet do tend towards being thinner.

That's an important distinction. It points to the big picture.

We need to look at our whole diet, rather than single out individual foods or individual nutrients as demon foods or, conversely, as the answer to all of our problems.

The lesson from this study is not to load up on the linguine, or that we can eat carbohydrates with abandon.

The bigger-picture lesson is that in a plant-based diet full of minimally processed foods - which is the traditional Mediterranean diet - we can include a range of other foods, including processed foods like pasta.

The researchers noted pasta intake was "positively associated with the intake of other important food groups, such as tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, olive oil, seasoned cheese and rice".

It's also worth noting how Italians traditionally eat pasta - as a first course, in smaller portions than we are possibly used to. We are not talking about the plate piled high with spaghetti and topped with an equally large mound of meaty sauce.

Nor are we talking a huge bowl of pasta with creamy, cheesy sauce.

Many Italian pasta dishes are extremely simple combinations of vegetables, herbs and olive oil tossed through the appropriate pasta. Meat and fish and cheese are included, but not always.

My spaghetti today was mixed with sauce made from lots of veges, including tomatoes and lentils, as well as some meat. It was topped with a shaving of parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. It was a moderate portion.

It was a delicious and satisfying lunch that kept me full and happy until dinner.

And I'm confident that in the context of my whole diet, it's not going to make me fat.

- Herald on Sunday

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