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Is Pasta Healthier When It's Eaten Cold?

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Bowl of cold pasta salad

A big bowl of pasta is a favorite comfort food for many people. However, because pasta is a simple carbohydrate, many people limit it in their diet.

It turns out that pasta can become a healthier food by chilling and eating it as leftovers. Changing the temperature is an easy way to convert simple starches like rice and pasta into foods that are higher in fiber.

What Happens When You Eat Starchy Carbohydrates?

When simple carbohydrates like pasta and rice are freshly cooked and hot, the starch molecules they contain are widely spaced and easy to break down and digest. They are converted very quickly into sugars in the stomach and small intestine and released into the bloodstream.

If starchy foods are refrigerated after cooking, another process begins. As they cool down, the starch molecules begin to rearrange themselves, becoming more tightly packed in a process called retrogradation. Once the pasta is thoroughly chilled, the natural starches are converted into resistant starches, a type of fiber that is present in many plant foods.

The Health Benefits of Resistant Starches

Foods that are high in fiber like whole grains, nuts, broccoli and beans take longer to digest and promote a slower, more gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. Your blood sugar rises more slowly and feelings of fullness last longer. This can be especially important for people who are managing diabetes and other health conditions.

Including more resistant starches in your diet has been linked to improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels, better gut health and a reduced risk of some cancers. And, because the body is forced to work harder to digest resistant starches, you burn more calories in the process.

Reheating Improves Nutrition Too

Here’s more good news: If the thought of eating cold pasta doesn’t appeal to you, reheating starchy foods that have been refrigerated maintains the added resistant starches that have formed. So you can cook, chill, reheat and enjoy, with similar health benefits.

Some Rules Apply

  • It takes many hours for simple starches to convert to resistant starches. Ideally, and for maximum benefit, pasta and rice should be chilled for a full 24 hours before eating or reheating.
  • It’s important to refrigerate foods soon after cooking to avoid the possibility of bacterial growth and food-borne illness.

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Managing blood glucose levels is essential to good health. Extreme fluctuations are unhealthy and sustained high blood sugar can lead to serious illnesses, including diabetes. University Hospitals has a team of clinical dietitians with the knowledge and expertise to help patients improve health, prevent or manage disease and enhance well-being through good, balanced nutrition.

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