Chew on This

You can eat pasta, but load it with veggies and keep serving small

Whole wheat pasta with vegetables is a good, healthy choice.
Whole wheat pasta with vegetables is a good, healthy choice.

I never thought I would hear that Italians are eating less pasta. Apparently the low-carb craze has crossed the continent and has taken on a most sacred Italian tradition. It is not yet a crisis but it is a trend.

In 2014, the average Italian pasta intake was 55 pounds per person. By comparison, the U.S. average intake is 19 pounds a year.

This changing appetite led a group of Italian researchers to look into the association between pasta intake and body mass intake (Nutrition and Diabetes 2016). Data was collected on 14,402 subjects, including information on height, weight, activity levels and dietary intake information. Participants were sent photographic guidance on how to report intake with accurate amounts. Food intake for the past 24 hours was collected one time via telephone.

Their findings were that pasta consumption was associated with better compliance to a Mediterranean style of eating. They also found that pasta consumption had a negative association with abdominal obesity. Pasta intake was associated with a higher intake of tomatoes, onions, garlic and olive oil. That could also be called spaghetti sauce.

This study has limitations in that it was done over the phone and people, particularly overweight individuals, tend to underestimate their portions. Most important was that the subjects were eating about 1.5 to 3 ounces of pasta. This is a side of pasta with fish, not a plate with strands falling off the side. The bigger message is that pasta fits with a healthy Mediterranean diet, providing you follow these tips:

▪ Load up pasta with vegetables. Sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers and eggplant make a fabulous pasta primavera.

▪ Chose whole grain pasta. Lentil, black bean and quinoa pastas have interesting flavors and are readily available.

▪ Make the pasta a side dish instead of the main event. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, lemon and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

▪ Skip the Alfredo sauce and instead add fresh grape tomatoes, basil and olive oil for a bright summer side salad.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.