As a health professional, you are an important link in the chain of information and resources that your patients and clients need to get – and stay – healthy. With conflicting nutrition guidance around every corner, consumers are looking to you for science-based advice they can trust. Browse the resources below to help educate yourself on the latest research related to the health benefits of pasta.
Grains: the Foundation of Healthy Diet
The release of the MyPlate icon in June 2011 reemphasizes the role that grain foods play in a balanced diet. The meal planning template shows grains occupying a large portion of the plate. But what types of grains are recommended? According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average Americans should eat six servings of grain foods daily, at least half of those whole grains and the rest enriched grains.
While the push to eat more whole grains is clearly important, many consumers are now avoiding “white carbs” – and consequently missing out on the essential vitamins and minerals provided by fortified and enriched grains. Encouraging a mix of grain types in the diet is still important. Learn more about the benefits of enriched grains below.
The Health Benefits of Enriched Grains
The mandatory fortification of enriched grains with folic acid – ordered by the Food and Drug Administration in 1996 – has reduced the incidence of neural tube defects like spina bifida by 25-35 percent. This notable achievement recently led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to name folic acid fortification “one of the greatest public health achievements in the last decade.”
In addition to promoting the growth of healthy babies, folic acid has also been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers. Data also shows that folic acid has lowered stroke mortality in the US and Canada where fortification is mandated.
A serving of dry enriched pasta supplies about 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of folic acid. When paired with folate-rich foods like black beans and spinach, a pasta meal could easily supply nearly three-quarters of your daily folic acid requirements.
Access more Questions & Answers About Folic Acid.
Carbs and Weight Control
While experts agree that over-consumption of carbohydrates promotes weight gain, the same is true for over-consumption of any of the macronutrients, including fat and protein. Maintaining proper energy balance (calories in vs. calories out) is the key to weight management. According to the American Dietetic Association:
Calories cause weight gain. Excess calories from carbohydrates are no more fattening than calories from any source. Despite the claims of low-carb diet books, a high-carbohydrate diet does not promote fat storage. Eating too many calories is the problem.1
Research definitively shows that carbohydrates are not responsible for obesity. The scientific literature clearly demonstrates that the macronutrient composition of the diet (% carbohydrate/protein/fat) is not related to total weight loss over the long term. A reduction in calories, regardless of which food groups are being reduced, will result in pounds lost.
A landmark 2009 Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (The Pounds Lost Trial) followed dieters for two years to determine:
- whether fat, protein or carbohydrate contents affect weight-loss and maintenance
- the optimal proportions (if any) of fat, protein, and carbohydrate for weight-loss and maintenance.
Results proved that reduced-calorie diets with a variety of macronutrient compositions achieved similar weight loss after 2 years regardless of emphasis on fat, carbohydrate or protein.2 There were no benefits to low-carb diets over the long term.
Scientific Consensus Statement on The Healthy Pasta Meal
In 2004 and again in 2010, an international conference convened by Oldways Preservation Trust reviewed current nutrition evidence on the relationships between carbohydrates and healthy eating patterns. At its conclusion, the participating nutrition scientists issued a Scientific Consensus Statement on The Healthy Pasta Meal:
Scientific Consensus Statement1
1. Scientific research increasingly supports the importance of total diet, rather than individual foods and nutrients.
2. Pasta is a key component of many of the world’s traditional healthy eating patterns, such as the scientifically-proven Mediterranean Diet. Traditional dietary patterns confer greater health benefits than current Western dietary patterns.
3. Many clinical trials confirm that excess calories, and not carbohydrates, are responsible for obesity. Diets successful in promoting weight loss can emphasize a range of healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat. All these three macronutrients, in balance, are essential for designing a healthy, individualized diet anyone can follow for their whole life. Moreover, very low carb diets may not be safe, especially in the long term.
4. At a time when obesity and diabetes are rising around the world, pasta meals and other low glycemic foods may help control blood sugar and weight especially in overweight people. Glycemic index is one of many factors that impact the healthfulness of foods.
5. Pasta is an affordable healthy choice available in almost all societies. Promoting the affordability and accessibility of pasta meals can help overcome the misperception that healthy foods are too expensive.
6. Healthy pasta meals are a delicious way to eat more vegetables, legumes and other healthy foods often underconsumed.
7. Pasta meals are enjoyed in cultural traditions worldwide, as they are versatile and easily adaptable to national / regional seasonal ingredients.
8. Doctors, nutritionists and other health professionals should recommend varied and balanced pasta meals for good health.