How Leftover Pasta Can Keep the ‘Hangries’ Away

How Leftover Pasta Can Keep the ‘Hangries’ Away
Photo: Claire Lower

If I’m not careful, the late afternoon “hangries” have a way of sneaking up on me during that in-between time when lunch is a distant memory but it’s not yet time for dinner. When it happens, rather than taking some extra time to prepare a healthy snack, I find myself rummaging through the cupboards in search of whatever is quickest and easiest. But I recently learned that if I prepare my lunch a certain way, it might actually help give it a little more staying power.

As studies have shown, if lunch happens to be leftover pasta (or potatoes, rice, or lentils) from the day before, reheating it could be the difference between hangry snacking and more intentional snacking later in the day.

Low blood sugar often results in hunger

Hunger is often the result of low blood sugar, which acts as a signal that we need to eat. According to a recent study, published in the journal Nature Metabolism, people who experienced big dips in blood sugar levels several hours after eating felt hungrier and ate more than people who only experienced a gradual decline in blood sugar levels.

One way to avoid a big dip in blood sugar is to opt for foods with a lower glycemic index, which is a measure of how much a specific food will raise your blood sugar. Generally speaking, foods that have a lot of refined sugar and carbs have a high glycemic index, while foods that contain fibre, fat, and protein tend to have a lower glycemic index.

Foods with a high glycemic index will cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly, while foods with a lower glycemic index will take longer to digest, and have a more gradual effect, which includes a less pronounced blood sugar increase.

Reheated leftover pasta causes a more gradual change in blood sugar

In a 2020 study published in the journal Foods, a group of study participants were fed three separate meals, in random order, of pasta that was either hot, cooled, or reheated, after which their blood sugar levels were monitored for a two-hour period.

Those who ate the reheated pasta, experienced a less pronounced spike in their blood sugar levels than those who ate freshly cooked pasta. It’s believed that this effect on blood sugar is due to the higher amounts of resistant starch found in pasta that has been cooled and reheated. Resistant starch takes longer to digest, which in turn leads to a more gradual change in blood sugar.

A similar effect is also observed in foods like potatoes, lentils, and rice, all of which have higher levels of resistant starch after being cooled and reheated.

Reheated pasta helps take the edge off

I ended up testing this out on two separate days, when I ate a lunch of hot spaghetti with veggie meatballs, followed by a reheated dish of the same meal the next day. If you are worried about drying out your pasta, you can either place an ice cube in the centre or cover it with a damp paper towel, which creates enough steam to keep it re-hydrated.

As such, the effect felt subtle. On the day I ate reheated pasta, it took enough of the edge off my hunger that it was a bit easier to take my time preparing a late afternoon snack of apple slices and peanut butter, rather than rummaging through the pantry in a state of aggravation for a bag of chips.

Supposedly, this is a hack that can help with weight loss, although I’m a bit sceptical of that claim, as our bodies are very good at keeping us at a stable weight. However, there is more to health than just weight, and in my own experience, eating a healthier variety of food offers a number of physical and mental benefits that have nothing to do with a number on the scale.

It may not be a huge change, but it’s enough, especially when it’s as simple as re-heating leftovers for lunch.

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