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Pasta, anyone?

By: Irene Cavaliere

Photo: Crazyoctopus/Flickr

Photo: Crazyoctopus/Flickr

Spaghetti, taglierini, penne, fusilli, cannelloni, lasagna and other countless forms of pasta that are the favorite food of many people throughout the world. "Pasta" — as it is called in Italian and many other languages — is enjoyed globally so much that there is an International Pasta Organization and a day especially dedicated to celebrate it: October 25.

The country that most consumes it could only be Italy. It's 26kg of pasta per year per person. Brazil is in 17th place, with 6.4kg per person. Ireland was 48th (and last) in the ranking, with 1kg per person, in the survey carried out in 2010.

Photo: Stopthegears/Flickr

Photo: Stopthegears/Flickr

The success of pasta is no surprise: not only there is a huge variety of types and formats, pasta is easy to prepare, store and transport, is easily combined with different sauces and sides, is inexpensive and available throughout the year. It's very easy to please anyone with it.

"Pasta makes you fat!"

Have you ever hear or said that? People enjoy it, but people who want to loose weight usually avoid pasta. Some diets even suggest cutting carbohydrates altogether. But that is not the way to go. Especially for children and adolescents, which use a lot of energy to play, practice sports, study, nag their brothers and sisters and get themselves into trouble, so it would be dangerous to cut it from them.

Photo: Imipolex/Flickr

Photo: Imipolex/Flickr

Pasta is at the base of the food pyramid, that is, it is part of the group of foods that we should eat frequently. Pasta has a lot of carbohydrates, the body's main source of energy.Animals keep energy in their bodies as glycogen. Plants usually keep it in the form of starch. In humans, glycogen is stored in the liver and in muscles. Adipose tissue — that is, fat — is another source of energy.

However, we have a limited capacity to store energy as glycogen, because these molecules hold a lot of water. Nutritionist Mariana Ramalho explains: "Adipose tissue is the most efficient way of storing energy and uses up much less space. Studies show that, for a person that weighs around 80kg (176 pounds), there are 2,000kcal stored as carbohydrates (glucose in the blood and glycogen) and 106,500kcal as fat (lipids in the blood, the adipose tissue and intramuscular fat), approximately."

When we eat more carbohydrates than we can use and store, the excess is converted into fat and stored as adipose tissue. That is the reason for many diets to rule out carbohydrates, which pasta mostly is. However, scientific studies have shown that weight gain cannot be blamed only on one type of food. What makes people fat is consuming a greater amount of energy than the body is able to burn.

"Therefore, what's important is having balanced meals that are adequate to our needs, because the excess or the lack of nutrients — proteins, carbohydrates and lipids — may get you fat," explained the nutritionist.

The pasta diet?

Photo: Topfer/xchng

Photo: Topfer/xchng

Filling your belly with pasta won't help anyone loosing weight also, but pasta can be part of your diet if you wan't to drop a couple of pounds. The carbohydrates in pasta are the so-called complex carbohydrates, which are slowly digested and have a moderate glycemic index (GI). Our bodies absorb the energy and the nutritional properties in foods with lower GIs much slower, which means they are more efficiently used. The glicemic index is how much the glucose in the blood increases after a specific food is eaten, usually when compared to a standard (glucose or white bread more commonly).

That is why we don't fell like we have to eat for a longer period of time after we eat pasta with tomato sauce and a salad on the side, which is good if you want to loose weight. But if you eat both pasta and a very caloric side dish, your diet will go down the drain.

It is not hard to have a balanced meal that includes pasta, since the more traditional complements for pasta, like tomato sauce, vegetables, olive oil and meat cause the GI of the meal as a whole to go down. "Fat, protein and fibers take longer to leave the stomach, which causes the meal to be absorbed more slowly and, therefore, reduces the glycemic index of the meal," explained Mariana.

Eating food that is good for you depends on the type and amount of carbohydrates you eat, as well as the sides you eat it with. Having a well-balanced diet every day is the best thing to do. This way, your scale won't be your enemy. But if you need to loose a few pounds, talk to a dietician before choosing any diet plan.

Technical Advisor: Mariana Felipe Ramalho, CRN: 05101621

See also:

Associação Brasileira das Indústrias de Biscoitos, Massas Alimentícias e Pães e Bolos Industrializados

http://www.internationalpasta.org

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