Although the risks of being underweight don't get the same press attention that's attached to being overweight or obese, a low body weight can negatively affect your immunity and fertility, and may slow your rate of recovery after illness. Gaining weight the healthy way requires using wholesome, nutritious foods to eat more calories than you burn each day. Pasta can fit into a healthy, varied diet, and it supplies the calories you need to add pounds to your frame.
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Pasta for Weight Gain
Pasta is moderately high in calories, which makes it helpful for putting on weight. In general, you should aim for 250 to 500 extra calories each day to gain weight at a healthy rate. That will allow you to gain 0.5 to 1 pound weekly.
A cup of cooked, enriched white pasta -- such as macaroni elbows or spaghetti -- has 221 calories, so simply adding a serving of pasta to your daily meal plan provides enough extra calories for healthy weight gain, even before you factor in sauce or other toppings. If you want to go for whole-wheat pasta, you'll need to eat slightly more to gain weight -- a cup contains just 174 calories.
Nutritional Value From Pasta
While any food will make you gain weight -- as long as you eat enough calories -- it's best to choose foods that offer nutritional value. Pasta is a good source of several essential nutrients to keep your healthy as you gain weight.
A cup of white pasta, for example, offers 10 percent of the daily value for iron, an essential mineral. Iron promotes healthy oxygen circulation, since it's used to make hemoglobin, the highly specialized protein that transports oxygen in your bloodstream. Most people don't get enough iron, notes Brown University, so including more iron-rich foods can benefit your health.
Pasta also supplies the B-complex vitamins -- which help you make energy from the food you eat -- especially folate, a nutrient involved in red blood-cell growth and oxygen transport. If you go for whole-wheat pasta, you'll also get fiber to support healthy digestion, and a cup supplies about 4 grams, which is 16 percent of the daily value.
Add Protein to Gain Lean Weight
Serve your pasta with protein -- paired with a weight-training exercise program, protein helps you gain lean mass. That's because protein supplies amino acids, the small compounds used to make new muscle tissue. How much protein you need depends on your weight, but athletes looking to build muscle mass need around 0.7 grams per pound of body weight. If you currently weigh 115 pounds, eat 81 grams of protein daily; if you weigh 140 pounds, eat 98 grams.
A cup of plain pasta contains 8 grams of protein, and a cup of plain tomato sauce adds another 3 grams. Top your pasta with 3 ounces of 97-percent lean ground beef to add 22 grams of protein to your intake, or add a 3-ounce, cut-up Italian sausage for an extra 13 grams of protein. You can also use vegetarian-friendly foods for added protein -- a cup of chickpeas, for instance, offers 15 grams of protein.
Weight-Gain Serving Tips and Suggestions
Experiment with different pasta combinations to help you avoid boredom as you gain weight. For example, you can get your extra 250 calories with a pasta snack: start with a cup of pasta topped with 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, then add a handful of steamed veggies or a few fresh basil leaves for added flavor. Or top a half-cup of whole-wheat pasta with 3 ounces of lean ground beef and a half-cup of tomato sauce for a meal that supplies around 230 calories.
For a higher calorie meal, up your portion size. A cup of whole-wheat pasta topped with a full, cooked Italian sausage and a cup of tomato sauce supplies about 550 calories. Or drizzle a cup of white pasta with a tablespoon of olive oil, a cup of green peas and season your dish with a squeeze of lemon juice, fresh mint and a dash of pepper for a meal that contains approximately 500 calories. Note, this adds up to 480 calories without the lemon juice, so there is a bit of wiggle room and the juice shouldn't push the number of calories over 500.