Hot pasta, cold pasta, still pasta | Day 65

Right now some parts of the internet are very excited about the news that a simple kitchen trick might convert pasta into something more healthy. But does it really warrant all that excitement?

Refined carbs of the sort found in pasta get broken down so quickly, that people start feeling hungry soon after the meal, even though they have ingested a fairly large amount of calories. And that, of course, spells doom for maintaining a healthy weight.

In the latest BBC series Trust Me, I’m a Doctor with the quirky health journalist Michael Mosley, an impressive pasta-eating galore resulted in some interesting findings about blood glucose levels.

Now, this was not an experiment published in peer reviewed literature, but the result is still quite interesting.

Nine volunteers at University College London underwent three separate days of testing, spread over several weeks. On each of these days they had to eat a pasta dish with tomato and garlic sauce on an empty stomach, and then give blood samples every 15 minutes for two hours after the meal.

Each pasta meal was different only in one aspect – it was either freshly cooked and hot, chilled and served cold, or chilled and then reheated.

The purpose of the blood samples was to measure the spike in blood glucose that inevitably happens after eating a food high in carbs and low in fibre. What they found was that eating pasta cold resulted in a slower sugar rush — and even more so if the pasta had been chilled and then reheated.

The reason this happens is not new to science. It is because cooled pasta (potatoes too, by the way) becomes more resistant to gut enzymes, resulting in a slower and more even energy release into the bloodstream. Chilling and reheating pasta increases its content of this resistant starch – a type of dietary fibre.

However, this doesn’t mean that pasta magically transforms into a whole food simply via chilling. There are several caveats. Firstly, the experiment was by no means representative — there were only nine people, so it’s impossible to generalise from that. Also, just because some of the starch becomes more resistant, the calorie content of pasta doesn’t change. It’s just as fattening, but it may just take you a little bit longer to get hungry again.

The potential benefit is so small I doubt it’s even useful to bother chilling your pasta before every meal. Simply watching your portion size will probably be good enough in terms of watching your weight.

Funny enough, I did just pull tomorrow’s lunch pasta out of the freezer. Surely frozen pasta is the most resistant of them all!

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