Odds are you've heard that eliminating pasta from your diet is a must for shedding pounds. Let's set the record straight: Noodles aren't your nemesis. Nope, you don't need to ban pasta from your eating plan if your goal is weight loss.
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Contrary to popular belief, carbs like pasta, bread, crackers, cereal and even desserts don't automatically increase body fat storage or cause weight gain, Lisa Moskovitz, RDN, founder and CEO of The NY Nutrition Group, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
In fact, you need carbs like pasta for fuel.
"Carbs are a primary source of energy for our bodies — they act like gasoline for a car," Moskovitz says.
In other words, a balanced bowl of pasta can help you power through the day (and a tough workout).
All this is to say, pasta can be part of a healthy weight-loss diet. Just steer clear of these six common mistakes.
Mistake 1: Not Adding Veggies
Your plate of pasta shouldn't be void of vegetables. Veggies add bulk and satiating fiber to our meals that can help slow digestion, resulting in a steadier stream of energy, Moskovitz says.
Further, slowing digestion can also lead to lower levels of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar and can also influence appetite and fat accumulation, Moskovitz explains.
Mistake 2: Not Pairing It With Protein
If you're omitting meatballs from your meal to cut calories, you might be missing out.
What we consume with carbs matters in terms of how our body digests, absorbs and metabolizes them, Moskovitz says. Adding a protein (which takes longer to digest) to your pasta may help keep you satiated and better balances macronutrients to support a healthy metabolism, she says.
Indeed, eating more protein is not only more filling, but it may also reduce fat mass and help you maintain lean muscle when you're trying to lose weight, per a November 2014 study in Nutrition & Metabolism.
Not a meat lover? Lob in legumes like lentils or sprinkle your spaghetti with cheese for a punch of protein.
Mistake 3: Choosing a Sauce High in Sugar and Fat
It's not the noodles themselves but what sauce you slather on them that can make pasta problematic for your weight-loss efforts.
For example, creamy, dairy-based sauces tend to be high in fat and calories, Moskovitz says. And it's a surplus of calories that's more likely to cause weight gain (not simply slurping down some spaghetti here and there), she adds.
That's why Moskovitz suggests choosing a sauce with fewer than 10 grams of fat per serving. Same goes for sauces with excessive sugar: aim for under 10 grams.
To slash the sugar and fat, look for a product that's tomato-based and seasoned with flavorful herbs like garlic and basil (bonus if it contains extra veggies), Moskovitz says.
Mistake 4: Overdoing Your Serving Size
"Enjoying a small bowl of pasta here and there has minimal to no impact on weight," Moskovitz says. However, frequently feasting on larger, restaurant-style portions of pasta can cause a calorie surplus and sabotage your goals.
Here's why: What carbs you don't burn for fuel are stored as glycogen in your liver and muscle, and when those storage locations are at max capacity, your body will convert the excess glycogen into fat cells, Moskovitz explains.
In short, if you continuously overload your pasta portions, you will gain weight over time.
"Spacing out your intake with sensible portions that appropriately match your caloric needs is the best way to keep pasta in your diet and still feel your healthiest," Moskovitz says.
Mistake 5: Choosing White Pasta
Rethink your refined white pasta — which is lacking in weight loss-friendly fiber and protein and can lead to blood sugar spikes — and swap your noodle for a more nutrient-dense variety.
"While whole-wheat or bean-based pastas are not as traditional, they pack in a lot more filling fiber, especially black bean, chickpea and lentil versions," Moskovitz says.
Remember, fiber slows down digestion and decreases the amount of total carbs absorbed by the body. So, the more fiber your pasta contains, the more likely you will feel full, satisfied and energized for hours later, Moskovitz says.
Mistake 6: Only Making Pasta a Main Dish
Eating an entirely carb-based meal minus other macros is unbalanced and will inevitably lead to a carb crash and more cravings.
And this is especially true of pasta. "If you're just eating one food for dinner, chances are you're going to eat a lot more of that food to fill up," Moskovitz says. And we already know that a surplus portion of pasta can prevent you from shedding pounds.
But pasta doesn't have to be the main event — it can work as a stellar side dish too.
"Balancing your meal with a protein, veggie and fat can naturally keep portions in check — it's the difference between a four-cup bowl of pasta and a one-cup side serving," Moskovitz says.
Mistake 7: Feeling Guilty About Eating Pasta
"No matter what, pasta is never enjoyable with a side of guilt," Moskovitz says. "If you end up eating more pasta than you planned, or it came under a thick, calorie-dense cream sauce, it's not the end of the world."
What's most important is that you don't beat yourself up, or say, "screw it," and let the minor setback steer you off course completely. "This all-or-nothing attitude can derail your weight-management efforts way more than a few pasta dinners," Moskovitz says.
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