A new study that food-pushing Italian grandmothers will love found that eating pasta is not associated with higher body mass index (BMI).
Italian researchers looked into this topic because some people still believe that having any pasta will result in fatness; even Italians have been increasingly shunning pasta in favor of higher-protein diets. For their study, the researchers looked at the eating habits of more than 23,000 people and compared those habits to their BMI, waist size, and waist-to-hip ratio.
They initially found a link between higher pasta consumption and obesity, but when they accounted for what they thought was an underreporting of total calorie intake, the association went from positive to negative: The more pasta a person ate, the lower their BMI was. And among the 14,000 participants who lived in Italy’s central Molise region, eating more pasta was associated with smaller waist sizes and lower waist-to-hip ratios.
The researchers found that people who ate pasta were more likely to follow the all-powerful Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains, and they think that might be why pasta-eaters had healthier weight markers.
If this all sounds too good to be true, remember that observational studies can’t prove cause and effect; there are likely lots of other factors at play here. Plus, a traditional serving of pasta in Italy is way smaller than what we tend to eat in the United States. The largest portion that participants could report was 86 grams, or about three ounces. Maybe chill with the second helpings, Grandma.
Update: The jig is (partially) up. Turns out a portion of this study was funded by pasta-maker Barilla and the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. This tidbit is mentioned in the right column of this release as well as in the study’s acknowledgements section. Specifically, they funded the 9,000-person Italian Nutrition & Health Survey (INHES) that brought the total number of participants to 23,000. They wrote:
The funders had no role in study design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of manuscripts and in the decision to submit the article for publication. All Authors were and are independent from funders.
That’s pretty hands-off as far as funding goes, but the more you know!