July 7, 2016

A recent research study, which was partially funded by a pasta company, highlights the problem with research “conclusions” and with contemporary media reporting. The headline “Pasta won’t make you gain weight” promises readers the answer to their prayers and ensures readership. The idea that eating pasta and weight loss can coexist is an appealing one.

This study was a 24-hour recall study, the type which is notorious for people under-reporting on unhealthy behaviours and over-reporting those they perceive as healthy. When looking at diet, there are so many different choices made each day that cause and effect cannot be established.

The study authors even acknowledged that lower weight is likely associated with overall diet, not a specific component. In this Italian study, the overall diet was – no surprises – a Mediterranean diet.

Study participants were asked to report not only on their food choices but also their serving sizes. We know that a Mediterranean diet focuses on variety and fresh foods: fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish and some meat, olives and olive oil, as well as pasta. In fact, pasta makes up a side dish in this eating pattern, never a main.

For the purpose of estimating serving sizes in this study, a “large” serve of pasta was 86g, or a little over ½ a cup. Compare that with a pasta meal in Australia or New Zealand, where four times that amount may be considered an entrée.

When looking at the details of the study and the actual amount of pasta eaten daily, normal weight women ate 30.4g, overweight women 28.9g, and obese women 30.8g. In all groups that’s less than ¼ cup, or just a few mouthfuls! These results do not support the conclusions of the study or the headline reported in the media.

The really unfortunate aspect of the media reporting is that people will think “Woo hoo, pasta’s back on the menu,” and return to eating a mountain of pasta at a sitting and wonder why they’re gaining weight again. A few mouthfuls per day of almost any food is not likely to make you gain weight if it’s in an otherwise appropriate diet.

When funded by companies with a vested interest, research can mean very little. Then the media pick and choose what they report, invent headlines, omit important details of studies, and – accidentally or deliberately – mislead readers, all for the sake of hooking in readers.

The bottom line is this: Don’t trust media reporting for your nutrition advice.

And when it comes to pasta and weight loss? Every body is different, and it’s essential to determine the diet specific to your body that enables you to achieve the results you want. The amount of pasta you can eat, if any, is determined by factors such as age, gender, activity levels, hormone status, psychology, gut microbiome, stress, sleep and what else you eat and drink.

Just because an eating pattern works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for you.