From Food, Nutrition & Science. Guest Columnist: Sara Baer-Sinnott, President, Oldways.
Pasta is one of the world’s favorite foods1, so it is no wonder that on October 25, 2012, people around the globe will celebrate World Pasta Day. This annual event, now in its 17th year, was created to commemorate the delicious, nutritious and versatile role pasta plays in a healthy lifestyle. On this day – and year round – Oldways and the International Pasta Organisation (IPO) invite families, chefs, retailers and restaurants around the world to serve up their favorite pasta dish. This is the perfect time for retailers to educate their customers about this delicious staple, providing recipe ideas, product samples/tastes, suggesting new pasta pairings and more.
The Healthy Pasta Meal
Healthy pasta meals have roots that stretch back to ancient times. Thousands of years ago, people ground wheat, mixed it with water to make a wheat paste, dried it, and then boiled it to go with meals. Today’s consumers welcome pasta to their tables for its versatility and convenience just as nutrition scientists recognize pasta meals for their place in healthy eating patterns, such as the “gold standard” Mediterranean Diet and the traditional Latin American diet.
In 2010, Oldways and the IPO organized a meeting of scientists and food authorities. The result was an updated Scientific Consensus Statement – the first since 2004 – based on the most recent scientific evidence about the healthfulness of pasta. The statement reinforces pasta as an affordable, healthy carbohydrate food and a delicious way to eat more vegetables, legumes and other healthy foods often under consumed.
One of the committee members, Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN, Director, Department of Nutrition, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), said, “The Consensus Statement highlighted new research since 2004 on the role of healthy carbohydrates in a balanced diet. There is a prevalent myth that eating carbohydrates makes people fat, but scientific evidence shows that excess calories cause obesity. It is important to know that healthy pasta meals and other low glycemic foods can be part of successful weight loss diets and support long-term weight maintenance.”
Last year, the findings were reinforced at the Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) conference in Madrid, Spain, an event attended by 2000 doctors, dietitians and researchers from around the world.
To boil it down, a healthy pasta meal is truly the sum of its parts and features two key factors: what a diner pairs with his or her pasta and how much pasta is eaten in a meal.
Pasta is an ideal partner for healthy foods and ingredients such as vegetables, beans, and herbs (whole or in sauce form) and extra virgin olive oil. Nuts, fish, and small amounts of meat or cheese can also be added for extra flavor and protein. Pasta’s versatility allows for almost endless preparations.
Retailers can help consumers by offering ideas for simple and healthy combos:
- Angel hair with shrimp and tomato marinara
- Penne with arugula and walnut pesto, peas and roasted chicken
- Orecchiete with broccoli rabe and chicken sausage
- Pasta e fagioli, a classic Italian soup with pasta, white beans and plenty of vegetables
Consumers must also pay close attention to how much pasta they are putting on their plate. According to most dietitians, a healthy serving of pasta for an adult is one-half to two-thirds cup of cooked pasta, which is much less than most people are used to seeing on their plates and in restaurants. The best way to fill out the plate is with extra vegetables and lean sources of protein such as fish or beans.
With the growing popularity of whole grain and gluten-free pastas, everyone can enjoy it. Oldways’ Whole Grains Council has approved more than 260 different whole grain pastas for use of the Whole Grain Stamp. These pastas offer on average 46 grams of whole grain per serving – very close to minimum needs (48g) for the whole day.
Since 1995, World Pasta Day has been an international celebration of pasta – a food consumed all over the world in varying cuisines. Pasta is a part of cultural traditions worldwide, going way beyond Italian spaghetti to Japanese soba, Pad Thai, Mexican fideo soups, and other favorite dishes from every continent.
In terms of world pasta consumption, you may be surprised to learn that the U.S. ranks seventh behind Italy, Venezuela, Tunisia, Greece, Switzerland and Sweden. Countries like Brazil, Russia and Turkey are top pasta producers along with Italy and the U.S. (IPO, June 2011).
Oldways offers many resources for retailers and consumers to plan a celebration on this day or throughout the year including Pasta For All, a guide illustrating why pasta is the perfect food for families (available in multiple languages), and a newly updated brochure, Pasta for Children Around the World, a nutrition and cooking curriculum designed to awaken children’s excitement and interest in food, pasta, and cooking pasta dishes from around the world. Please visit www.oldwayspt.org for more information or to download these free resources.
1. Oxfam International/Grow Campaign 2011 Global Opinion Research. http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/pasta-pizza-or-paella-global-food-survey-reveals-worlds-favorite-foods
Sara Baer-Sinnott is president of Oldways (www.oldwayspt.org), a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Simply, we advocate for the healthful pleasures of real food. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.