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Eat away: Italian study shows pasta doesn’t make you fat

If you've banished pasta from your kitchen cupboard in the hope of squeezing into last year's Speedos or bikini before your summer holidays, you're making a terrible mistake.

Eat away: Italian study shows pasta doesn't make you fat
A new study has revealed pasta might not be public enemy number one when it comes to weight-loss. Photo Wei-Duan Woo/Flickr

An Italian study published in the journal 'Nutrition and Diabetes' this month, reveals for the first time a link between how much pasta you eat and how slim you are likely to be.

The study questioned some 23,500 men and women of varying ages and social backgrounds across Italy about their dietary habits and recorded their body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio.

The results of the study were surprising and good news for pasta-lovers everywhere.

“Our findings show a negative association of pasta consumption with general and central obesity” the authors wrote. In short: the more you eat pasta, the less you are likely to be overweight.




Body mass was found to decrease with pasta consumption in men and women. Source: 'Association of pasta consumption with body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio'. Nature and Diabetes, July 2016

The results run contrary to the popular belief that servings of pasta will have you piling on the pounds, a misconception which has caused pasta consumption to fall worldwide.

Even Italians are turning away from pasta, a food which has played a central role in the country's famed Mediterranean diet since medieval times.

The traditional Italian diet, based around cereals, legumes, seasonal fruit and veg and lashings of olive oil is considered to be one of the healthiest ways to eat.

But if the traditional Italian diet is so healthy, how did pasta get such a bad reputation?

The researchers lay the blame squarely at the feet of fad diets.

“Pasta consumption has decreased as the concept of adopting low-carb, high-protein diets against obesity has increased,” the authors wrote. But in spite of their popularity, there is still significant scientific debate surrounding the possible negative effects of such diets on kidney and bone health.

It turns out, that even among people who don't follow a healthy Mediterranean diet, pasta is still associated with a more streamlined physique. But why does pasta make you slimmer?

The precise mechanisms are still a mystery, but scientists think it has to do with the foods we tend to eat pasta with.

“Pasta intake was observed as being associated with the intake of other important food groups, such as tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and onions,” – foods, which can all be helpful when losing weight.

The true extent of pasta's weight loss powers will perhaps be revealed by a future study. Until then, feel free to tuck into as much pasta as you like, safe in the knowledge that a plate of spaghetti in and of itself is not going to cause you to balloon. Buon appetito!

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Why some of Italy’s food festivals are ‘fake’ – and how to pick the best ones

Italy's countless sagre, or food fairs, are an autumn highlight. But how do you find the best events - and avoid the more commercial ones? Reporter Silvia Marchetti explains.

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are 'fake' - and how to pick the best ones

Italy’s renowned food fairs are one of the most exciting events during autumn and winter, particularly the coldest months when we’re looking for culinary weekend distractions. 

For the uninitiated, sagre are key gourmand exhibitions mixing local food, premium products, cheeses and olive oil – all the ‘excellences’ of the area – but lately I find some are just, well, fake. 

READ ALSO: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

Instead of selling traditional indigenous delicacies, vendors sell a little bit of everything which they think appeals to foreigners and city people desperate for a rural break. 

Last weekend I went to the sagra at Osteria Nuova, near Passo Corese in Lazio, and found mozzarella from Naples and limoncello from Amalfi: now what do those have to do with the Rieti countryside?

It was sad and disappointing. Even though it takes place in an area which is famous at this time of the year for exquisite porcini mushrooms and chestnuts there was not even one single vendor selling these. Instead, there was codfish from Venice and porchetta from the Castelli Romani.

Up until a few years ago the Osteria Nuova food fair was very genuine and appealing: it was actually a real farmers’ market where animals were sold: not just rabbits and hens but cows, horses and donkeys. It was a vibrant event. 

Now the cages that once kept the animals are empty. And people just go there to stuff themselves with huge sandwiches and hotdogs. It’s always hell finding a parking spot because the fair is very close to Rome, luring day trippers on a ‘scampagnata’.

Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

My advice is to avoid visiting food fairs which are too close to big cities and towns, but pick offbeat villages or unknown rural spots where the sagre are small and with local producers selling authentic, ‘indigenous’ products. Choosing the remote hillsides, where traditions tend to survive, is of course better than the touristy areas. 

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

Also, it’s best if the food fair is not too heavily sponsored or advertised in national newspapers. The best thing to do is search online for all food fairs in the area you plan to visit during the weekend or even during the week, and ask friends and locals as word of mouth can often be more reliable. 

Among the authentic sagre I would recommend the porcini mushroom food fair in San Martino al Cimino in the pristine hills of the Tuscia countryside in Lazio, where the woods are dotted with porcini. 

At the fair not only bags of huge porcini are sold but you can also buy a lunch ticket and taste various mushroom dishes sitting down at wooden tables. Last time I was served a delicious potato and porcini soup which inspired me to replicate (successfully) the recipe at home. 

However, the best thing is to search for the weird and unknown – food fairs with funny names and showcasing products that sound and look really bizarre. So forget about the usual truffles, mozzarella, limoncello, ham and pasta-filled events. I suggest opting for quirky food festivals in never-heard-of-before villages where the culinary adventure comes with a cultural jolt. 

Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

When I hear about something amazingly off-the-wall and tasty, with a particular story or legend behind it, my curiosity and taste buds tingle.

Last weekend I was surfing the web and came across the Ciammellocco festival in the tiny hamlet of Cretone, Lazio, which immediately aroused my curiosity. 

READ ALSO: 14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

As I had never heard of it before, I jumped in the car the following day and ventured out to an isolated woody area with a few small dwellings, where one single bakery makes this huge, funny-sounding, highly-nutritious sweet-salty doughnut with fennel seeds which has been around since at least the middle ages. Housewives used to make it for their husbands as a substitute for lunch when they went off working in the fields. 

Even though I have tasted similar ciambelle in my life none come close to ciammellocco, crunchy and tender at the same time, made with eggs but light.

Next I heard about the Sagra della Papera in Carassai, Marche region, offering succulent duck meat dishes with pappardelle pasta and roasted duck breasts, and given duck isn’t something you’d normally find in Italian restaurants, it makes the cut for authentic food events. 

Vegetarians can’t miss the Festival degli Orapi in the village of Picinisco north of Naples where guests are treated to platefuls of a unique, delicious spinach variety which is made exquisite by the fact that it grows beneath goat poo, a natural fertilizer. Locals actually roam the countryside with a knife to scrape away the poo and extract the orapi.

In Pedagaggi, Sicily, local housewives organize the Sagra della mostarda di fichi d’india, with gourmet dishes made from exotic-looking prickly pear mustards. 

READ ALSO: ‘La scampagnata’: What it is and how to do it the Italian way

Other curious sagre include the Festa del Gorgonzola set in the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy which is the real birthplace of Italy’s iconic blue cheese. Huge pentoloni of steaming pots of gorgonzola in the middle of the piazza lure pungent cheese addicts. 

Also Diamante’s festival del peperoncino in Calabria is a must stop for lovers of strong, authentic hot dishes spiced up with chili peppers (there’s even a peperoncini eating marathon).

Real sagre tend to showcase one premium native product rather than a myriad with overlapping origins.

The more ‘local’ you dive into the deepest, remote corners of Italy full of tradition and folklore, the more genuine the sagra and the more satisfying the gastronomical experience.

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