So let's consider what a pasta dish consists of:
This makes for quite a healthy pasta meal. But of course, the actual health benefits of pasta depends on how you put this meal together.
I ever ate "pasta" that consisted of soft and soggy highly refined noodles with a sauce that was basically starch plus colouring and flavouring, with tiny bits of minced meat and no vegetables. Needless to say, that horrible pasta was served at a "fast food" restaurant.
And this brings us to a broader issue regarding the health benefits of pasta... Because pasta is easy to prepare, it encourages home cooking rather than eating out. When you cook at home, you can enhance the health benefits of pasta by using:
Even without these homemade enhancements, the typical pasta meal is relatively healthy although not ideal. We examine this in greater detail below...
Health benefits of pasta - pattern of eating
This pattern of eating is one of the most important - yet often most neglected - aspects of healthy eating. Many people think in terns of which foods contain more vitamins, minerals and other nutrients but then they end up with strange eating patterns - like having salads or fruits as their main food. Or, those less concerned about health might eat meat, or even chocolate bars, as their main food.
For tens of thousands of years, however, the bulk of humanity has been eating grains as their primary, staple food. This is the pattern recommended in macrobiotics.
Health benefits of pasta - complex carbohydrates
Grains and grain products like pasta provide mainly complex carbohydrates.
In recent years, carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation as a fattening food and several so-called health experts advocate a high-protein / high-fat diet to help people lose weight. While such diets may work in the short-term, they are ultimately harmful in the long term.
It is important to differentiate between simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates - from sugar, honey and similar products - are quickly and easily digested. This leads to two main problems:
Complex carbohydrates, such as those provided by grains and grain products like pasta, do not cause these problems. People who follow a macrobiotic diet, as well as people in poor and rural societies, are generally slim despite eating mainly grains.
Another way to look at the health benefits of pasta is in terms of the Glycemic Index - which measures how fast a food causes the blood sugar level to rise. Depending on the type, pastas generally have low Glycemic Indices ranging from 30 to 40+. This is attributed to the durum wheat, which is slower to digest compared with other grains.
Personally, I do not subscribe to the Glycemic Index theory because I feel that it looks at only a very narrow and specific aspect of food.
For one thing, food is never eaten in isolation. Rice, for example, has a relatively high glycemic index compared to pasta. Bu when rice is eaten with other foods, particularly with foods that contain oil, then the rice dish (as opposed to plain rice) will have a much lower Glycemic Index.
Flour versus whole grains
Taking a broader view of the health benefits of pasta, however, there are reasons to view pasta as being not so healthy compared to other whole grains. There are two main concerns:
Health benefits of pasta - other ingredients
To fully appreciate the health benefits of pasta, we need also to consider other key ingredients. This shall be discussed more fully in later articles. But for now, it suffices to note the following:
Health benefits of pasta - summary
To summarise, there are certainly significant health benefits of pasta.
Yet it is by no means an ideal food as it is made mostly from refined flour. People with serious health challenges, such as those recovering from cancer, might be better off eating more whole grains and minimising their consumption of pasta to occasional treats.
Those in relatively good health can enjoy pasta more regularly.
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