Reading Between the Headlines: Pasta, the 80/20 Rule, and More

Posted On Sep 21, 2016 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Reading Between the Headlines: Pasta, the 80/20 Rule, and More

The way the results of research studies get interpreted and go to press with sensationalized headlines often lead readers (you!) astray or even more confused as to what is actually healthy. Here's a closer look at recent research studies, my two-cents, and the real deal on what you need to know.

Can eating pasta help you lose weight?

A recent study says yes, but we didn't need another study to tell us what we already know. Losing weight is about:

  1. Total calorie deficit; it doesn't matter where those calories come from chicken, kale, and quinoa, or ice cream and pasta as long as you stay under your daily calorie needs, and
  2. Finding what works for you.

If eating small amounts of pasta (preferably whole grain) helps you stay on track, don't cut it out completely. Paired with lots of veggies, marinara sauce or a light pesto, and lean protein such as grilled chicken, shrimp (see my quick weeknight Pesto Shrimp Pasta Bowl), or 93% lean ground beef or turkey, pasta can be a waist-friendly food.

Go back to 3 squares a day for appetite control

A frequently asked question I get is, "how many meals and snacks should I be eating"? I respond by turning it back to the person, "What's your schedule like? Do you get ravenous between meals, which leads to overeating or poor choices?"

Eating small frequent meals has been promoted in the health and fitness field as being the answer to keeping metabolism revved, calorie intake in check, and hunger at bay, all resulting in weight loss. But conflicting evidence shows more frequent meals and snacks may backfire and does not, in fact, directly lead to better appetite control and weight loss. Again, find what works for you. Stick with three meals per day and if you feel you must have a snack between meals, make sure it's out of physical hunger and not because you "think" you need one, you're bored, you're stressed, etc.

Is the 80/20 rule outdated?

The 80/20 rule is making a resurgence thanks to celebrities Cameron Diaz and Olivia Munn crediting it as the dieting approach they use to keep their svelte figures. Can it work for you? Yes, as long as you continue to stay mindful of what passes your lips to count as the 20% of unhealthy calories. The other 80% of the time, your calories should come from lean protein, seafood, produce, eggs, nuts, avocado, and minimally processed grains like quinoa, brown rice, and plain oats.

Another way to think about it is to convert 20% into a caloric value. If you eat about 1600 calories per day, 320 calories can be "spent" on something like a cookie with lunch and glass of wine at dinner.

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