Health

That 'Pasta Won't Make You Fat' Study Was Garbage

cheesy beef pasta plate
Chona Kasinger/Thrillist

Finding out pasta could help you lose weight last week was like learning that watching Netflix for hours was the equivalent of running a marathon. No more spiralizing zucchini and pretending it tastes exactly like spaghetti carbonara? Enjoying the all-you-can-eat pasta buffet without remorse? It was like the diet gods smiled upon all their carb-deprived children, and delivered a much-needed marinara-covered blessing.

Alas, this whole pasta-can-help-you-lose-weight gospel didn't come from the diet gods, but rather the popular Italian pasta company Barilla. In addition to promoting its line of pastas with commercials starring sexy Italian men, Barilla decided to take a page out of Big Food's book and hawk its product with a big sciencey-sounding study. So Barilla itself funded the research, and spoiler alert: the results skewed in favor of eating pasta. Shocker! 

The press release mentioned that the participants' moderate pasta consumption was part of a Mediterranean diet, which has already been linked to weight loss, thanks to being plentiful in heart-healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and lean protein. People could also probably lose weight eating cookies, if they consumed one tiny cookie along with an otherwise super-clean, 1,300-calorie diet. You see where this is going.

The study also only examined Italians, who happen to eat pasta as part of a deep cultural tradition that's been around for centuries. 

Food studies are an in-vogue marketing strategy

Barilla is hardly the first major food company to fund a study that shows its product is healthy. Coca-Cola, for example, came under fire for creating the now-defunct Global Energy Balance Network nonprofit, which released a couple studies promoting the idea that exercise was more important than ditching junk food for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Most people who have lost a significant amount of weight will tell you otherwise.

Extra-dark chocolate has also been widely considered a health-food staple, thanks to the antioxidant properties of raw cocoa. But there have been studies released linking chocolate's health benefits to things like sharper memory, better blood pressure, and heart health -- all funded by Mars, Inc., one of the world's largest candy companies. 

Even foods that are widely accepted as good for you can have sneaky industry funding behind studies on their health properties. Take this review extolling the myriad benefits of avocados; all the way at the bottom, after heaps of praise for avocados' healthy fats and ability to aid weight loss, there's an acknowledgment that reads, "This review was supported by the HASS Avocado Board." Yes, there's such a thing as the HASS Avocado Board. Big Avocado strikes again.

So maybe you should take the pasta study with a grain of salt, or a sprinkle of Parmesan (sorry). But if it helps you feel a little less guilty each time you hit up an all-you-can-eat special, then by all means, believe what you want. It's only a matter of time until a streaming service funds a study that proves binge-watching shows is actually really good for your health. 

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Christina Stiehl is a Health writer for Thrillist who doesn't understand the word "moderation" when it comes to pasta. Follow her on Twitter: @Christina Stiehl.