Pasta is so often demonized as an enemy to anyone trying to lose weight, but new research shows that this much-loved carb could actually have a place as part of a healthy balanced diet.
An experiment run by Italian scientists suggests that a new type of pasta—made from a mixture of standard durum wheat flour mixed with whole-grain barley flour, which is rich in a fiber called beta-glucan—could help ward off heart attacks and promote cardiovascular health. Supposedly, this is because beta-glucan is known to enhance the growth of new blood vessels, which go on to form "natural bypasses" in the event of a heart attack.
Researchers in Pisa tested the above theory on laboratory mice, feeding them the newly-developed pasta before inducing cardiac arrest. The mice who had eaten the barley pasta survived in greater numbers and sustained less damage to their hearts than the control group mice, who had been fed normal pasta. Professor Vincenzo Lionetti, who led the research, said:
"[This is] the first time that the formation of natural bypasses was encouraged via functional food, [in this case] pasta with barley beta-glucan… To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to show that a sustained dietary intake of pasta enriched with [beta-glucan] safely increases coronary collaterals…and reduces mortality."
He added that, until now, "techniques to promote collateral artery growth required surgical treatments, the use of stem cells extracted from bone marrow or gene therapy."
A pinch of salt
Now, there are quite a few things that need to be taken into consideration here before you go and eat nothing but spaghetti for the next 30 years. First of all, the study was done on mice—not humans—and even though the survival rate was better in the barley pasta group when compared to the control group, there were still fatalities across both. Secondly, there are definitely some preferable, more scientifically backed-up ways to promote heart health—such as taking regular exercise—and, finally, the pasta in question was developed in a lab and therefore can't just be picked up from your corner shop.
That said, this piece of research does show that no food groups should be avoided or demonised when consumed in moderation, as they all have their part to play in keeping our bodies healthy. Not only is it possible that pasta is good for your heart, but it is also a fabulous vehicle for giving us other essential nutrients and undoubtedly has a part to play in a healthy, balanced diet. NetDoctor's Dr Sally Norton says:
"Carbs can help us feel full and provide us with a lot of healthy nutrients and essential fibre—we just need to make sure we are eating the right sort. Vegetables are a great source, and another particular group that is getting seriously neglected is wholegrains"
Plus, barley is a great addition to a healthy diet. All in all, there's no need to feel bad for enjoying pasta as part of your day-to-day diet. Just be sure to keep an eye on portion sizes and, whenever possible, swap out white pasta for wholegrain alternatives.