Pasta comes in for a fair amount of criticism when it comes to weight-loss, but a new study has found that under the right circumstances, it can actually help you maintain a healthy weight, thanks to a study involving more than 20,000 people.

As researchers from the Neuromed Institute explain in a new study, when eaten as part of a healthy Mediterranean-style diet, pasta can be your weight-loss friend.

"In popular views, pasta is often considered not adequate when you want to lose weight.  And some people completely ban it from their meals," says one of the team, Licia Lacoviello. "In light of this research, we can say that this is not a correct attitude. We're talking about a fundamental component of Italian Mediterranean tradition, and there is no reason to do without it."

Lacoviello and her colleagues randomly recruited 14,402 participants aged over 35 from the Molise region of Southern Italy - a cohort known as the Moli-sani Project. Another group of 8,964 participants aged over 18 years from all over Italy were analysed separately (called the INHES cohort).

The team used a standardised questionnaire to find out what each participant had eaten over the past 24 hours including time, place of consumption, detailed description of foods or beverages, quantity consumed and brand.

Portion sizes were taken into account and the participants were asked whether they were following a particular diet and whether the food they had consumed in the past 24 hours was different from the norm. The participants also had their weight, height, waist and hip circumferences measured.

Not only did the study find no correlation between eating pasta and an unhealthy weight - it was the opposite - pasta consumption was actually linked to being slimmer.

"As a traditional component of Mediterranean diet, pasta consumption was negatively associated with BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio and with a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity." the researchers concluded.

"The message emerging from this study, as from other scientific analyses conducted in the context of the Moli-sani Project and INHES, is that Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation and respecting the variety of all its elements (pasta in the first place), is good to your health," says Lacoviello.

The important point however, is that the people who were able to keep their weight down and enjoy pasta were already maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and were having their pasta with fish and vegetables, rather than creamy sauces with lots of meat.

Their portion sizes were also quite modest and pasta played second fiddle rather than being the main player which is traditional in Mediterranean-style eating. Survey participants were given picture booklets to help them report portion size - the biggest portion selection was 86 grams (eg. a standard British teacup of penne).

So my advice is:

  • have a pasta dish no more than twice a week
  • focus on sauces rich in vegetables, fish, shellfish and poultry with non-creamy sauces
  • be generous with the sauce and stick to the recommended pasta portions of no more than 86g
  • try my Squash and Sage Pasta or Pasta a la Nicoise recipes