Few foods have the divisive and polarising power amongst the fitness community as pasta. Some gym rats successfully incorporate pasta into their diets as a slow releasing energy source with good results. Others spurn the stodgy carb and avoid it at all costs. What is the truth? Is pasta a fitness fanatic’s friend or enemy?
DOES PASTA RUIN A HEALTHY DIET?
IT DOESN’T SPIKE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS TOO MUCH
Unlike other carbohydrates, eating pasta doesn’t spike blood sugar levels. White rice, for example, has a glycaemic index of 72, resulting in huge spikes in blood sugar levels and increased insulin production. Whole wheat bread has a score of 69, which is still fairly high.
Pasta, on the other hand, scores around 46. Some types of whole wheat pasta even have a score as low as 32. Contrary to popular belief, eating pasta does not put you at risk of obesity or diabetes anywhere near as much as bread or rice.
This makes sense. Mediterranean diets, which have relied on pasta as a staple for centuries, have lower obesity levels than many western countries. This would suggest that pasta itself isn’t a culprit in weight gain.
BUT THERE IS A CATCH
So, pasta doesn’t cause obesity or diabetes, but this isn’t the only criteria for judging the quality of a carbohydrate. Pasta comes up short against other carbohydrates in its mineral content, vitamin content and antioxidant content.
Pasta is heavily processed from wheat kernel to semolina flour, to the end product. This process removes any antioxidants and leaves a final product low in vitamins and minerals.
PASTA IS HIGH IN CARBS AND OFTEN OVEREATEN
A hundred grams of spaghetti or pasta contains around 31 grams of carbohydrates. This is much higher than many other sources of carbohydrate, so in theory, we need to eat less of it to get the same intake of carbohydrates.
However, in most pasta dishes, the pasta is the base of the dish. This results in a large portion size, much more than we would have of potatoes in a potato dish or quinoa in a quinoa dish. As a result, we tend to overeat pasta when we cook pasta dishes by cooking larger portions.
THE FINAL VERDICT
When consumed in appropriate portion sizes, pasta is a good source of carbohydrates, which will not significantly elevate blood sugar levels and won’t lead to weight gain. However, there are better food alternatives which are less processed and offer more vitamins, mineral and antioxidants.
Quinoa, chickpeas, lentils and black beans are all good sources of carbohydrates, which also contain proteins, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, giving you more for your money than simple refined pasta.
I usually eat pasta once a week, purely because I enjoy it, it’s quick to cook, and it goes with anything. When you are getting all the necessary minerals and vitamins in your diet from other food sources, pasta is a useful source of carbohydrates to keep in your cupboard.