If you read a story saying pasta isn’t fattening and can help you lose weight, you may not have gotten the whole story

By Steve Wilson
The Paducah Sun

Newspapers are often faulted for not printing enough good news, and a reader lodged a fresh complaint along that line last week.

“Why didn’t you have a story about the study that found eating pasta is good for you? TV had it, and it was all over social media. We spaghetti lovers would appreciate reading something good about a food that’s gotten a lot of criticism.”

I said I hadn’t heard about the study and would look into it. What I learned is that despite all the cheerful sound bites and headlines it generated (“Pasta isn’t fattening and can help you lose weight”) the study provides a prime example of how slapdash reporting can mislead more than inform.

It’s no mystery why the study was widely reported, especially by media that are fond of “click bait” and measure success by the number of eyeballs they attract online.

Pasta sales have dropped in the past decade as low-carbohydrate diets have gained favor. Many nutritionists disparage the food as “empty calories” without much benefit, especially for people wanting to lose weight. . . . 

Buried far down in a couple of the stories were these facts:

  • A traditional serving of pasta in Italy is no more than three ounces, far smaller than what most people eat in the U.S., and less likely to have a high-calorie sauce. It’s usually served as a light first-course.
  • Italians in the study were likely to follow the healthful Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  • Italian pastas have more whole grains than most American white-flour varieties. They’re higher in nutrients and fiber, making them beneficial in giving a sense of fullness that helps control calorie intake.
  • The study was partly funded by Barilla, a leading pasta-maker.

. . . While the Italian study is less than a ringing endorsement for filling up on pasta, it’s good to see evidence that moderate consumption is healthy and can even help people lose weight.

What’s unhealthy are media reports that skim the surface of a study and misrepresent its findings.

This is a condensed version of the article. The full version is here but behind a paywall.

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