Could Eating Like an Italian Be the Healthiest Plan of All?

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Could Eating Like an Italian Be the Healthiest Plan of All?

A recent study has revealed that our craziest dreams may actually be a reality: Pasta may not be bad for us. In fact, it actually may be a good part of a balanced diet.

The study, which was rather ironically housed in Italy and included data from 23,000 people, found that eating some pasta is actually associated with a lower body mass index.

“Our results are in agreement with a relatively recent study examining food and nutrient intakes in association with BMI in 1,794 United States middle-aged adults, showing that pasta intake among other food groups is negatively associated with BMI,” the researchers wrote.

This news seems to turn everything we’ve thought we knew pasta and healthy eating on its nose. But is it really? Or are we just learning what Italian people have known all along?

“I’m not surprised to hear that pasta consumption can be linked to a healthy BMI. I’m aligned with what the study says. What we always need to keep in mind is that serving size and frequency of food consumption play a key role in our diets along with physical activity,” says Valentina Cecconi, Head Nutritionist at Casa Buiton, which is based in the hills of Tuscany.  “I eat pasta almost every day. I often flavor it with vegetable seasoning and eat it with tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt.”

So, yes, eat that pasta – but maybe avoid the heavy cheese or cream-based sauces when you are going at it. That still will be no friend to your waistline. And keep in mind that those eating these foods may also be more active than you are, which is a part of the equation.

Portion size is important when including pasta as part of a healthy and balanced diet: “A great way to enjoy pasta is with vegetables like tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms – the options are endless,” says Cecconi. “The seasoning should also be vegetable-based and a tablespoon of really good extra virgin olive oil is a great way to enjoy pasta every day.”

Using whole grain pasta is another option, cays Cecconi. Pasta should be boiled in salted water (or according to personal preference) and seasoned afterwards.

It’s hard to deny that pasta has been the victim of a pretty bad reputation for many years.

“I think the bad reputation of pasta has been mainly built on the false belief that it causes weight gain and the belief that a high protein diet leads to more rapid weight loss,” says Cecconi. “However, if we think about a healthy balanced diet, pasta, and other complex carbohydrates like bread, potatoes and so forth, can also be included.”

The serving should be based on the needs of the individual but a healthy diet can include carbs as a source of energy.

The Mediterranean Diet has been the leading topic of thousands of studies over the last 60 years and almost all the scientific studies show the benefits of this eating pattern. “This diet includes pasta, bread (better if whole grain) vegetables, fruits and nuts as the base of the daily consumption,” says Cecconi. “The daily consumption should also include extra virgin olive oil in adequate portions, from two to four tablespoons. Extra virgin olive oil should be the main source of healthy fat for seasoning and cooking providing unsaturated fatty acids and no cholesterol.”

Cecconi says that in consideration of this diet, fish and seafood should be consumed at least two times per week. Poultry, white meat, eggs, cheese and dairy (milk, yogurt) can be consumed in moderate portions from daily to weekly. All the foods just mentioned provide high quality proteins, fats, vitamins and calcium, which are all key components of a balanced diet.

The Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle, says Cecconi, that includes enjoying meals and seasonal foods. But it’s also about savoring that food and enjoying it slowly, not The Mediterranean lifestyle means sitting around a table the loved ones making dining time more special.

Also be very careful to pay attention to the ingredients on the label when you buy your pasta – those can play a major role in how healthy it will be – or not. “Buitoni Pasta, for example, is made with flour/semolina and water. Chilled pasta, is made fresh daily and provides a perfect way for you to put your special unique twist on the meal. It’s so easy to just add fresh vegetables and protein so your family can enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal anytime of the week,” says Cecconi.

So now that an Italian-style diet is back on the table, is love under the Tuscan sun next? God, we hope so.