Pasta-lovers, here’s some good news for you. (Photo: Getty Images)
When you think of pasta, you may think, “Bad-for-you food! Refined carbs! No redeeming nutritional value!” But new research has discovered a particular type of the noodle has a slew of health benefits.
A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that people who ate beta-glucan-enriched pasta had an increase of good bacteria in their guts, as well as a reduction in non-beneficial gut bacteria. They also had reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Beta-glucans are healthy fibers that we can’t digest — but some types of good gut bacteria can. Previous research has also found that they can have an anti-carcinogenic effect, as well as reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
For the study, researchers took fecal and blood samples before and after study participants went on a two-month diet that included 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of beta-glucan-enriched pasta.
At the end of the study, people had a “notable” increase in the good gut bacteria Lactobacilli (a strain of which is commonly added to yogurt) and a reduction in Enterobacteriaceae and other non-beneficial gut bacteria. They also had an increase in several acids that are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body.
Blood samples showed that the average LDL cholesterol for participants dropped from 107.4 to 93.8 milligrams per deciliter (the standard measurement for cholesterol levels in the blood).
As a result, researchers concluded that beta-glucan-enriched pasta is a good prebiotic. “These results highlight the influence of fibers and of the Mediterranean diet on gut microbiota, and indirectly on human health,” study co-author Maria De Angelis, PhD, said in a press release.
Prebiotics are ingredients that promote the growth of good microorganisms in our guts. They’re essentially food for probiotics, microorganisms that help keep our guts healthy. Probiotics have been linked to a slew of health benefits, including good digestion and reduced feelings of depression.
While it sounds surprising that such a small serving of pasta could have a big impact on our health, New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording isn’t shocked.
“When you’re eating really dense sources of prebiotics, you don’t need a ton of it to get the nutritional bang for your buck,” she tells Yahoo Health. The pasta was made from a mixture of 75 percent durum wheat flour and 25 percent whole grain barley flour, both of which are good prebiotics.
Related: How to Stock a Probiotic Pantry
The term “prebiotics” sounds fancy, but Cording points out that they’re often naturally present in a lot of foods like oats, beans, bananas, apples, root vegetables, and legumes. “A lot of foods that are high in fiber are prebiotic,” she says, adding that they also show up in garlic and onions.
It doesn’t take much to get your daily prebiotic fix, either. If you already eat foods that contain probiotics, Cording says you’re “doing just fine.”
Want to try out a prebiotic pasta for yourself? Look for one with a high durum wheat or whole grain barley content (or both). Your grocery store might carry something similar, but Cording says you’ll probably have better luck at your local health food store.
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