In response to recent research out of Purdue University confirming that very few Americans consume pasta in the healthiest ways, The Barilla Group has released a new portion reference guide to help eaters unlock the health benefits of the Italian staple. The visual guide is meant to help readers quickly and easily assemble a balanced pasta meal that includes proportional servings of vegetables and of lean proteins in line with international nutrition recommendations.
Barilla’s release of the guide follows a call from researchers at Purdue University for companies in the food sector to help consumers better understand how to incorporate pasta into a healthy meal.
“A concerted effort from health professionals and food manufacturers to help consumers better combine healthier foods/food forms with their favorite pasta dishes is needed,” write the study’s lead authors.
The researchers surveyed more than 10,000 American adults and found that only 2.5 percent of them consume pasta in a “healthy Mediterranean style” associated with improvements in health outcomes. Almost eight percent of the population reported consuming pasta in ways that are associated with poorer diet quality, including by adding too much of ingredients that are high in fats, such as cheese.
In addition to the importance of the relationship between ingredients, the researchers also stress that overall meal size can have a significant effect on health. A study by acclaimed nutritionists Marion Nestle and Lisa Young found that portion sizes for pasta dishes at popular take-out, fast-food, and family restaurants in the United States (U.S.) are almost five times larger than the individual portion size recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When prepared in the right ways, pasta can be a central component of a healthy diet. A study by researchers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom found that substituting 35 grams of meat per day with pasta, rice, or couscous decreases mortality from all causes by 11 percent while simultaneously reducing dietary greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent. Research from the Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed in Italy showed an inverse correlation between pasta consumption and obesity.
Many of the diets associated with the longest-lived populations in the world are fundamentally well-balanced and include some high-carbohydrate foods, like pastas and breads, according to the Blue Zones Project. Excluding high-carbohydrate foods can increase the risk of sickness and mortality, according to studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the British Medical Journal, and the Public Library of Science.
Another project of The Barilla Group’s, the Passion for Pasta Advisory Council, promotes a Mediterranean-style diet primarily based on a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereal grains, olive oil, and small portions of fish, meat, and dairy. To further support consumers in their understanding of healthy portion sizes, the Council has published an online healthy recipe building guide and a database of recipes designed to follow USDA nutrition guidelines.
Oldways, a nonprofit education organization, provides templates for balanced meals with reasonable portion sizes that are designed to represent culinary traditions from other parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The National Pasta Association, an industry group in the U.S. for pasta manufacturers, recommends that an appropriate portion for an individual meal include two one-ounce servings, totaling one-half cup of dry pasta. This amount equates to one cup once cooked, which Barilla’s visual portion guide suggests is approximately the same size as a baseball.
The USDA’s nutrition information program, MyPlate.gov, suggests that an average adult consume between six and eight one-ounce servings of grains per day, with a minimum of three or four composed primarily of whole grain foods.