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"Eating Pasta Linked to Weight Loss in New Study" says NewsWeek

Dear Kashmira Gander, author of the article in NewWeek online called “Eating Pasta Linked to Weight Loss in New Study” (http://www.newsweek.com/pasta-weight-loss-869178):

Thank you for making us aware of the new Systematic Review/Meta-Analysis publication “Effect of pasta in the context of low-glycaemic index dietary patterns on body weight and markers of adiposity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials in adults”, available through BMJ OPEN.  http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/3/e019438#ref-13 

You, working in the media, have a vital role in helping the lay person find out about new research/studies/articles being published. I just wish the media would do so honestly and authentically, possibly also fact checking some of the things they state in their articles about ‘new studies’.  

You see, I am a Registered Dietitian, and my clients always comment on how they don’t know what to believe  anymore because everything is contradictory.  Yes, I agree.  I see where they are coming from, especially with this article you have written.  

I read your article, as well as the published scientific paper, and found a few discrepancies.  But no worries, I’ll address them for you, so you can correct them in your article:

  1. could you please note that this not a ‘new study’ but rather a new publication assessing previously conducted studies (a systematic review/meta analysis)? - your claim of “new study” is very misleading.
  2. It’s very interesting that eating pasta helped patients lose weight, given the popularity and success of the low carb high fat and ketogenic diets. May I ask you what you personally consider “successful weightloss”?  I can guarantee you that my patients looking to lose weight would not consider losing 1/2 a kilogram (or 1.5 lbs) in 12 weeks very successful.  In fact, most people fluctuate by a few pounds every day.  So the claim that this study found “significant weight loss” needs to be revisited. 
  3. Could we also please note that there was NO change in waist circumference, and no change in body fat?  If the body fat didn’t change, and the weight loss was legitimate, then unfortunately, it was likely lean muscle mass that these participants lost - again, not what any of my clients would call ‘successful’.  Here, i’ll point out a ‘limitation’ that the authors themselves stated in the study: “The generalisability of our results is called into question for all body weight and adiposity outcomes, as the available trials only assessed pasta in the context of low-glycaemic index dietary patterns (none assessed the effect of pasta alone or in the context of other dietary patterns and most did not quantify the amount of pasta consumed”.  Minor limitation of course…
  4. You stated that there were 31 studies reviewed in their study, with n=~2500 participants.  However, this is not entirely accurate.  you see, 20 out of the 31 articles did not provide how much pasta the participants were eating… “Most of the available trials did not quantify the amount of pasta consumed in the context of the low-GI dietary patterns…it is difficult to quantify the effect of pasta in these diets.”  IE… this study doesn’t tell us much…  But it doesn’t stop there… to get a sense of how much the participants ate, the researchers based this on only 11 studies and far fewer participants (the total number of participants was not readily available).  
  5. Based on this smaller group of studies and participants, we need to note as well, that the participants ate pasta IN PLACE OF all other forms of carbohydrates (bread, rice, potato, etc).  and PER WEEK they were able to eat an average of 3.3 servings of pasta.  How big were those servings?  1/2 a cup.  So this does not mean that people can eat pasta and lose weight, this means that when participants restrict their carbohydrate intake to 1.5-2 CUPs of pasta per week, they saw (incredibly minor) weight loss.  This study, if anything, could prove that there is no harm to a person’s body by reducing their carbohydrate intake.
  6. While it is true that pasta (glycemic index of ~ 50) has a lower glycemic index than white bread (at 75), you claim that pasta has a similar GI to barley and legumes.  According to Harvard medical school (https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods) barley has a GI of 23, and legumes range from 16-32.  That is NO WHERE NEAR the ~ 50 that various forms of pasta share.  Let’s not mislead our readers please - both to you and to the authors of the study.  
  7. The authors back up their focus on pasta as a health food on the basis of the “calories hypothesis”… that its all about “calories in vs calories out”. You know, the “move more, and eat less” hypothesis that hasn’t worked sustainably for anyone, anywhere, ever?  Yes, pasta is a carbohydrate so it only has 4kcal/g whereas fat has 9kcal/g so their pasta is fine as long as it is not covered in fat or sugar (due to the “extra calories” of the added fat/sugar).  May I suggest that calories in and of themselves have little meaning, as it depends how the body uses these calories?  When we eat a diet high in sugar/carbs our blood sugars rise and, as a result, so does insulin (our body’s natural way to keep blood sugars from going to high and causing harm or death). But they didn’t mention hormones in the study, just weight.  They also didn’t talk about insulin or assessment for the health of diabetes, although to their claim, 30% of their trials were on diabetic individuals, and 100% of the participants were either overweight or obese. Please educate yourself about the far more updated theories of weight loss/weight gain by reading Gary Taubes’ book “Good Calories Bad Calories”,  Nina Teicholz book “Big Fat Surprise” and Dr. Jason Fung’s book “The Obesity Code” for more information on this topic. Now THOSE SOURCES make for interesting articles to write about!
  8. The last question I will ask you to address is who funded this study?  Honestly, it is so hard to get funding for good studies, unless of course, there is an ulterior motive… so I’ll bluntly ask if the pasta industry funded this study.

All this to say, It is very frustrating as a dietitian to see such poorly and deceitfully written news articles in the media!  Obviously, the media is looking for click bait, but seriously! This type of false information hurts people’s lives and health.  

Most sincerely, Eliana Witchell, MSc, RD.

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