Noodle lovers, rejoice: Pasta will not raise your cholesterol levels. It may even help you manage cholesterol, provided you choose the right varieties. As with all foods, however, pasta is best enjoyed in moderation. A healthy diet is a balanced one, and even the most nutritious foods will lead to weight gain if you overindulge.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs in small amounts. Your body makes cholesterol, and you also get some from foods. LDL cholesterol is the "bad" variety because it can build up on artery walls, narrowing passageways, and increasing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. HDL cholesterol, however, is the "good" kind because it helps prevent LDL cholesterol buildup. Foods that contain saturated fats, such as fatty meats and dairy products, are shown to increase LDL cholesterol, but pasta doesn't contain significant levels of any fats.
A Heart-Healthy Choice
Rather than increasing cholesterol levels, some types of pasta may help keep them in check. Whole grain pastas, in particular, are high in fiber, which can reduce cholesterol and help protect your cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association. Refined white pastas, however -- often labelled "enriched" -- are milled to remove the bran and germ, so much of the fiber is lost. For example, a cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti contains 6.3 grams of fiber, while the same serving of enriched spaghetti has just 2.5 grams. For healthier cholesterol levels and other benefits, get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat, or 28 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Smothering your pasta with butter or Alfredo sauce adds significant saturated fat to your plate, possibly undermining fiber's heart-healthy benefit. Instead, choose leaner options such as tomato-based sauces, which also provide fiber for an extra cholesterol-fighting boost. Help your heart further by topping your pasta with vegetables, seafood or reduced-fat Parmesan instead of greasy meatballs and full-fat cheeses.
All pasta contains calories, so eating too much can cause weight gain. Being overweight can lead to increased cholesterol levels, so stick with moderate portions. Whole wheat pasta contains 174 calories per cooked cup, a sensible serving size. Eating three cups will cost you 522 calories, however, even before you add any sauce or toppings. A 2,100-calorie diet includes three 500-calorie meals and three 200-calorie snacks, a good guide to keep in mind as you fill your plate.
- American Heart Association: About Cholesterol
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Cooked, Enriched
- American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Whole-Wheat, Cooked
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Tomato Products, Canned, Sauce
- University of Colorado, Colorado Springs: Nutrition: Your Guide to Nutrition Basics