Noodling Around

Pasta makes us happy, says pasta

Published February 13, 2024

There is a lot to be worried and sad about these days (as was recently revealed when the world vented to Elmo), but an article in Food & Wine explains that there is one simple thing that will improve your mood almost instantly: eating a plate of pasta. 

That’s right. Eating pasta makes us happier, folks. Sure, we already knew that it satisfies and satiates, but it turns out there is science behind pasta’s happiness delivery system.

Pasta contains tryptophan, a precursor amino acid of feel-good serotonin, and multiple B vitamins. That much is not new. But now, a study out of Milan shows there’s an “emotional and neurophysiological mechanism” that activates “an explosion of happiness,” similar to how we feel when a favorite song comes on, or when our favorite sportsball team scores a whatchamacallit.

The 40 participants went through various “neuroscientific and brain tracking methodologies” similar to those used for lie detection. Researchers compared and tracked their reactions while they listened to music, watched sports, and ate pasta. Using four indices—memorization, engagement, emotion, and happiness (which is apparently different from emotion)—eating pasta proved to create positive emotional and cognitive states that match or exceed sports and music. When the participants were asked to rank the level of happiness felt when eating pasta, 76% responded “a lot”. Ditto. 

“The results tell us that it is precisely when we eat pasta that we are most emotionally active,” said researcher Vincenzo Russo. “It is, therefore, the real act of tasting and savoring the dish in its full flavor to stimulate the most positive memories and emotions.”

The study, however, should contain several asterisks. If it sounds like the study was funded by a pasta trade organization, that’s because it was: the Unione Italiana Food. And of course the study was undertaken in Italy, where the people eat a whopping 50 lbs. of pasta per person per year—the most in the world—and 84% eat pasta at least twice a week.

The study didn’t specify what sauces, if any, were used to complement the pasta dishes, which could greatly change the participants’ experiences and potentially confuse what element of the dish is actually making them happy. (Was it a creamy carbonara, a punchy puttanesca, a bold bolognese?) And it wasn’t measured against other comfort foods like pizza, roasted chicken, or tacos. (Even bad pizza is good. That’s basically science too.)

Still, it’s good to know that when we feel overwhelmed by life, that we can turn to something so simple to lift our spirits—something like a heaping, cost-effective, happiness-inducing plate of pasta.