Coronavirus has crept into our lives on all fronts, altering habits, rhythms and quality of sleep. Since the pandemic began (now more than a year ago), many people have complained of increased insomnia and anxiety and describe themselves as feeling “very or quite stressed”.
But the good news is: nutrition can help. In particular, eating pasta at dinner is good for you, it’s relaxing, it facilitates sleep and if eaten in the right amount and with the right sauce it won’t make you fat, it can actually make you lose weight (great news in a time when gyms and sports centres are closed and we do less physical activity). Since the 1960s, extensive scientific literature[i], including three studies published in the Lancet Public Health magazine, has helped to dispel false myths and common stereotypes about pasta. It confirms that eating carbohydrates at dinner, and in particular pasta, which is rich in tryptophan and B vitamins, may prove to be a wise choice, not only because if eaten in moderation “it prolongs life”, but especially if we are stressed and suffer from insomnia.
These studies could encourage the Italian population to change its habits, as it is still wary of eating this food for dinner in fear of gaining weight or sleeping badly. Pasta is a great ally even in the evening, especially if we are stressed or if we suffer from insomnia. “Consuming pasta, explains Luca Piretta, nutritionist and gastroenterologist, and member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Society of Food Science (S.I.S.A.), favours insulin synthesis which, in turn, promotes the absorption of tryptophan, the sole amino acid precursor of serotonin (which regulates mood) and melatonin (which regulates sleep). And long and restorative sleep is inversely correlated to weight gain, reducing the hormones responsible for hunger. In addition, the B group vitamins, which are more present in wholewheat pastas, involve muscle relaxation; especially B1, which is fundamental for our central nervous system and stimulates serotonin production”.
A PRACTICAL EXPLANATION: THE “SLEEP-INDUCING” MASTICATION OF AL DENTE PASTA
Fun fact: this could be another reason for the sleep-inducing power of pasta. Chewing slowly and carefully stimulates the receptors that effect our feeling of satiety, reducing our sense of hunger that leads to eating more. “Mastication is the first stage of digestion. Breaking food into smaller pieces makes it mix better with saliva, and easier to digest,” says Piretta. And in the case of pasta, the Italian version is processed in such a way as to maintain its “al dente” firmness, a consistency that makes it more resistant to chewing and therefore more digestible.
THE “SATIATING” POWER OF LONG PASTA
In the evening it is better to eat light, seeing as the last meal of the day should only add up to maximum 30% of our daily calorie intake. But what if we are still hungry? Just choose a long pasta type. This is because, by measuring the weight increase of pasta types once cooked (al dente), Bucatini and Spaghetti show a final weight increases of 2 and a half times their initial weight. And so, even though the calorie intake is the same, we will feel fuller (and more satisfied) with a plate of Spaghetti, Linguine or Bucatini than a portion of Pennette or Mezze Maniche.
List of scientific sources:
–Eating carbohydrate mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner within a covert hypocaloric diet influences morning glucose homeostasis in overweight/obese men. Alves RDM et al, European Journal of Nutrition, 2014.