Q & A Thursday: what happens if you live on pasta?
Posted by kathryn in Grains
Antti-Juhani asked a question that made me smile:
In computer science, there is a thought experiment (due to the late Edsger W. Dijkstra, one of the CS intellectual giants) called “the dining philosophers”: there are five philosophers who spend their whole time thinking – except when they’re eating. Their diet consists of spaghetti, I kid you not, all they eat is spaghetti. My question is, if one were to emulate the philosophers and eat spaghetti only, what would result, health-wise?
While this scenario may seem far-fetched, it reminded me of a report I heard last week. University doctors have to be aware of the signs and symptoms of scurvy as it is occurs in small numbers in student populations.
Scurvy arises from a vitamin C deficiency. In Western societies we think of it as a problem of the past, however it occurs here in Australia, primarily among new students who have just left home. Unused to fending for themselves, some students live on a diet of toast, 2-minute noodles and pasta – all cheap foods that are easy to cook, but lacking in vitamin C – hence the scurvy.
However, on to the question. A diet consisting solely of pasta, with no other foods, would leave you severely malnourished and would most probably lead to death.
Pasta is primarily a carbohydrate food . While it does contain small amounts of other nutrients, they are at low levels, nowhere near what you need to function and stay healthy.
A diet comprised solely of pasta would leave you
protein,vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamin and zinc deficient. Your health problems would be many and they would affect all body systems. Given we haven’t actually done the experiment in real life, here are my thoughts on just some of the problems caused by a diet of pasta alone:
- anaemia (from the lack of
iron, B9 and B12)
- muscle wasting
decreased immune function, given the lack of protein required to make immune factors
- tiredness and lethargy
grossly enlarged liver and the development of fatty liver, due to a lack of apolipoproteins a swollen abdomen due to the lack of protein diarrhoea due to low digestive enzyme levels (they’re made of protein)
- mental disorientation, hallucinations and impaired motor control (from the lack of fat, B1 and B2)
- vision problems, leading to blindness (lack of vitamin A)
- heart problems (lack of vitamin E, calcium and magnesium)
- breakdown in wound, muscle and tissue healing and re-generation (deficiencies in A and C)
- poor clot formation and increased bleeding (lack of C and K)
- muscle weakness and spasming (calcium deficiency)
- kidney problems (lack of calcium and magnesium)
The effects would be similar to kwashiorker, the childhood malnutrition often seen in famine-affected countries. This condition occurs when children are weaned from breastmilk onto a diet that is largely carbohydrate based and protein deficient, similar to a pasta only diet.
Update: I’ve made errors in this post, hence the ugly revisions. Following a reader comment I’ve posted a revised version here.