Flavorful and easy to prepare, pasta is a classic food when you're "carb craving." And while you shouldn't help yourself to unlimited pasta on your diet, pasta dishes can fit into your weight loss plan. Just practice portion control, make smart choices about the pasta and sauce you use, and add vegetables to help you feel full so you don't overeat.
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Watch Your Portion Size
When you're eating pasta on a diet, measuring your portion size is essential to avoid overeating. A cup of cooked spaghetti, for example, contains 221 calories. That's about 12 percent of your daily calorie intake if you're on an 1,800-calorie diet, 15 percent of your allowance on a 1,500-calorie diet, and 18 percent if you're on a 1,200-calorie diet. While allowing yourself a moderate calorie-treat can keep you from feeling deprived, eyeballing your portion size -- and accidentally serving more than a cup -- can make those calories add up quickly. If you accidentally eat 2 cups of pasta instead of 1 cup, three times a week, in one year, you'd eat enough extra calories to gain 10 pounds of fat.
Choose Whole-Wheat Pasta
Choose pasta made from 100 percent whole grains for a more weight loss-friendly option. Whole-wheat pasta is slightly lower in calories than white pasta -- a cup of whole-wheat spaghetti has 174 calories, compared to 221 calories in white spaghetti. It's also much higher in fiber, offering slightly more than 6 grams per cup, or one-quarter of your daily value, which is more than double the fiber found in white spaghetti. Following a high-fiber diet -- even if you don't make other changes to how you eat -- puts you on track for significant weight loss, a 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports. Whole-wheat pasta also offers significant nutritional value to keep you healthy as you shed pounds. It's a significant source of manganese, a mineral that promotes bone health, plus selenium, an antioxidant that prevents cellular damage.
Add Vegetables for Weight Loss
Pack your pasta dishes with lots of vegetables to make them weight loss-friendly. Most vegetables are extremely low in calories -- a large zucchini, for example, has just 55 calories, and a cup of spaghetti squash has about 40 calories -- but they add bulk to your meal, along with weight loss-boosting fiber.
By replacing some of the higher-calorie pasta with lower-calorie vegetables, you'll save a few calories in each serving, too. That's because a 1-cup serving of pasta made with veggies might only have a half-cup of actual pasta, compared to a 1-cup serving of pasta without vegetables, which contains a full cup of high-calorie pasta. Simply making veggies a significant part of your pasta serving can save serious calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can make the difference between a 540 calorie serving of mac and cheese and a 315 calorie serving of mac and cheese mixed with vegetables.
Add spiral-cut zucchini or cooked spaghetti squash to spaghetti, add sauteed mushrooms and peppers to penne or spiral pasta, or mix broccoli and cauliflower with macaroni.
Pick a Low-Cal Pasta Sauce for Weight Loss
The sauce you choose can make the difference between a relatively healthy, weight loss-friendly pasta dish and calorie- and fat-laden entree. For the healthiest pasta, stick to plain tomato sauce made with minimal salt. A whole cup of tomato sauce has just 59 calories, so even if you like a lot of sauce on your pasta, you won't break your diet.
Creamy sauces, on the other hand, are loaded with calories. A 1/2-cup serving of cheese sauce, for instance, has a 240 calories. It's also loaded with 18 grams of fat, including 10 grams of unhealthy saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease. One brand of store-bought Alfredo sauce contains 200 calories and 20 grams of fat per 1/2 cup. Avoid making creamy or cheesy sauces a regular part of your diet, and eat them in moderation, as a rare treat.