Q: I love pasta. Can I eat it and still lose weight? I have several friends who have lost weight by cutting carbs, but I just can’t do it.
A: Yes! Of course you can eat pasta and lose weight, provided of course, you keep your portion size in check and it’s not stuffed with meat or smothered with cheese or Alfredo sauce.
Pasta oftentimes gets a bad rap. To get the most from your pasta, choose a whole-grain variety (look for “whole wheat” to be the first ingredient). By itself, whole grain pasta is a nutritious food. It contains almost no fat, cholesterol and sodium and is an excellent source of low glycemic carbohydrates. Foods with a low glycemic index are broken down slowly in the body and release their carbohydrate (glucose) gradually into the bloodstream. As a result, they can help you feel full longer after eating.
So, how much pasta can you eat if you’re trying to lose weight? Considering that one half-cup serving of cooked pasta (no sauce) has 104 calories, tread lightly with your portions. I am not suggesting you eat only half a cup of noodles — that’s not much. For a meal, I typically advise my weight loss clients to keep their portion of cooked pasta to 1 to 1.5 cups (women) and 1.5 to 2 cups (men).
The serving size of pasta on nutrition labels is given as a dry weight, so it can be hard to know how much to cook. In general, 2 oz. dry pasta equals 1 cup cooked pasta. To help with portion sizes, fill half of your plate with fruits or vegetables first. Then you can add your moderate portion of pasta and sauce. This helps to keep your servings in check and helps you feel satisfied while still being able to enjoy your meal.
Ideally, top your pasta with tomato sauce which is low in calories and fat and a good source of vitamins A and C. Tomato sauce is also an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with protection from certain cancers. If you’re using a store-bought pasta sauce, look for a product with no more than 70 calories, 1 gram saturated fat and 350 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving.
To help you feel satisfied, be sure to include protein in your pasta sauce – lean ground beef or turkey, chicken breast, shrimp and white kidney beans are all great choices. Bulk up your sauce by adding plenty of vegetables, such as chopped zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots and baby spinach.
April Graff, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at both Mankato Hy-Vee stores and can be reached at AGraff@hy-vee.com or call 625-1107 or 625-9070. Send her questions about food and nutrition, recipes, meal planning and healthy shopping.