Study: Eating Pasta 3 Times a Week Might Be Good For You

Two unseen people preparing pasta on a stovetop.
Katerina Holmes/Pexels.

Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows no link between pasta consumption and the development of a chronic disease.
  • Higher pasta consumption (just over 3 servings per week) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • The study only looked at postmenopausal women, so its results cannot necessarily be applied to the whole population.

The average American eats approximately 20 pounds of pasta annually, making it the sixth-highest food consumed per capita in the country, according to the National Pasta Association. Despite its popularity, pasta is sometimes vilified as a food that should be avoided. However, a new study suggests that moderate pasta consumption is not necessarily linked to chronic disease and might even have some benefits.

The study, which was published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention, and Health, sought to determine if there is a link between eating pasta and the long-term risk of type 2 diabetes, atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (ASCVD), and stroke.

Among the 84,555 postmenopausal women in the study, women who ate the most pasta had a reduced risk for ASCVD and stroke compared to the women who at less pasta.

The highest intake of pasta consumed was a little over three servings of pasta a week. The lowest was just under a half-serving of pasta a week.

Pasta Can Be a Healthy Substitute

The researchers found no significant increase in diabetes risk in the women who included pasta in their diet. They did note, however, that when the women replaced another starchy meal—like fried potato or white bread—with pasta, it could decrease their risk of diabetes.

When the participants replaced fried potatoes with a pasta meal, it decreased their risk of stroke, ASCVD, and diabetes. When they replaced white bread with pasta, it reduced their risk of ASCVD and stroke but did not make much difference to their diabetes risk.

Who Was Included in the Study?

The prospective cohort study included 84,555 postmenopausal women, aged 50 to 79 years old, from the Women’s Health Initiative. All the participants did not have diabetes, ASCVD, or cancer at the start of the study.

The researchers used a food frequency questionnaire to collect information about the participants’ dietary intake. Throughout the study, the participants were continuously evaluated to see if they developed diabetes and/or ASCVD.

One of the main limitations of the study is that only included postmenopausal women, which limits how applicable the results are.

Using a food frequency questionnaire is not always a reliable way to collect data. In this study, it could have limited the researchers' ability to obtain details that may have affected the results—for example, the proportion of pasta in relation to the participant's entire meal.

Health Benefits of Pasta

We need carbs because they give our bodies energy, but the kind of carbohydrates that we include in our diets affects how beneficial they are to us.

Pasta is a staple food in many cultures and is a rich source of carbohydrates—a nutrient that the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans says should make up 45% to 65% of our plates.

Research shows that we typically get more health benefits from choosing carbs with a low glycemic load—meaning that they do not cause our blood sugar to rise as high as foods with a higher glycemic load. The recent BMJ study shows pasta has a lower glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) than other major sources of carbohydrates (given the same amount).

Additionally, a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that pasta consumption is associated with better diet quality and better nutrient intakes compared to diets that do not include pasta.

How to Include Pasta In Your Diet

Pasta may offer health benefits, but because it's a carbohydrate, you want to be mindful of not consuming it in excess of what your body needs. In the recent study, the researchers found that three servings of pasta per week—in the appropriate portions and serving sizes—was the “sweet spot” for reaping the health benefits.

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN

All foods fit in moderation.

— Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN

Experts also point out that how you prepare and serve your pasta can also affect its nutritional value and role in your diet.

Nutritious Additions

“Serving pasta paired with nutrient-rich ingredients like veggies, legumes, and extra virgin olive oil is a great way to enjoy a portion of delicious and satisfying pasta that we know and love.” Anna Rosales, RD, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition & Science Communications, Barilla Group tells Verywell.

Rosales suggests using Barilla Recipe Builders—a resource that helps people create tasty and nutritious pasta dishes with an emphasis on identifying proper portions and adding vegetables, legumes, and healthy oils.

“As with all things, balance is important and I always suggest that grains take up a quarter of your plate, with produce occupying half of your food volume and lean protein or beans rounding out the last quarter,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, tells Verywell. “For an extra nutritional boost and lower rise in blood sugar, try whole wheat or bean-based pasta.”

Know Your Portions

Before you start cooking, it's important to know the serving sizes for the type of pasta that you're preparing. That way, you'll be able to get the right portion.

To begin, know that one serving of pasta is 2 ounces. What that looks like will depend on the shape and size of the pasta that you're using.

  • For shorter pasta like bow ties, a 2-ounce serving is equivalent to ½ cup of dry pasta or 1 cup of cooked.
  • For longer pasta like spaghetti, a 2-ounce dry portion will be about the diameter of a quarter. To measure the quantity, bunch up your pasta and compare the size of the ends to a quarter.

Balance Is Key

If you enjoy pasta, research suggests that it can be a healthful part of a balanced and satisfying diet. Like any aspect of your diet, knowing how to make the most of pasta's benefits while avoiding the potential drawbacks is key.

"All foods fit in moderation," says Harris-Pincus. "And surrounding something like pasta with lots of produce and moderate amounts of lean protein is a healthy and enjoyable way to approach healthy eating."

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Pasta Association. Pasta Facts.

  2. Huang M, Lo K, Li J, et al. Pasta meal intake in relation to risks of type 2 diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women: findings from the Women’s Health Initiative. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2021;bmjnph-2020-000198. doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000198

  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

  4. Papanikolaou Y. Pasta Consumption Is Linked to Greater Nutrient Intakes and Improved Diet Quality in American Children and Adults, and Beneficial Weight-Related Outcomes Only in Adult Females. Front Nutr. 2020 Aug 7;7:112. doi:10.3389/fnut.2020.00112