Fettuccine Alfredo may seem like an indulgence, with its silky smooth sauce coating ribbons of pasta. It can be a popular, if high calorie, dish. But there are ways to make Alfredo sauce without heavy cream.
Use good quality Parmesan cheese. It packs a lot of flavor, and has about half the calories of cream cheese. A quarter cup of Parmesan cheese has 105 calories, while 1/4 cup of cream cheese has 203 calories, according to the USDA Food Composition Database.
Alfredo Sauce — Comfort Food
For many people, Fettuccine Alfredo is the picture of comfort food. In fact, Alfredo sauce was created as comfort food, according to an article in Ozy. Back in 1914 in Rome, Chef Alfredo de Lelio's wife was pregnant and had intense bouts of morning sickness. He combined plain pasta, butter and Parmesan cheese to make a dish that she could eat. He was happy with the results, and the dish became a signature of his restaurant.
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A few years later, the recipe made its way to a popular Hollywood restaurant, Musso & Frank Grill, where it became a classic, and still is today. Alfredo's Rome restaurant, now called II Vero Alfredo, also still serves the classic dish.
Over the years, the recipe has been adapted, and it's often made with heavy cream. But Alfredo sauce without heavy cream can be made, and it can be tasty. Milk can be used in place of heavy cream to make a white sauce, and the combination can be a lighter sauce that doesn't have all the calories of the original.
Read more: Is Spaghetti Good for Weight Loss?
Alfredo Sauce Today
There's a lot of variety found even in the higher-calorie ingredients of an Alfredo sauce. Betty Crocker's recipe, for example, calls for butter, whipping cream and Parmesan cheese to be mixed together with salt, pepper and parsley. This meal is really meant as a first course, but Betty Crocker suggests adding chicken or shrimp to make it a main dish.
One serving of the Betty Crocker dish has 580 calories, and 150 milligrams of cholesterol, and 9.5 grams of saturated fat. Although there is no hard number, the current USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting cholesterol consumption to about 100 to 300 milligrams per day. This is definitely a meal for a special occasion.
If you use commercial Alfredo sauce, Consumer Reports compared pasta sauces, and found that if you eat a smaller serving of sauce, you can save on calories. The article noted that 1/4 cup of Rao's Homemade Pasta Sauce contains 100 calories, 9 grams of fat and 410 milligrams of sodium. But, while the Betty Crocker recipe includes the pasta in its nutritional calculation, this recipe does not.
The Splendid Table has a basic version of Fettuccine Alfredo that calls for 2 cups of Parmesan cheese and 5 tablespoons of butter, along with 1 pound of fettuccine and salt. At four servings, this dish contains 121 milligrams of cholesterol and 454 calories, so it still packs a caloric and cholesterol punch.
Read more: The Calories in a Bowl of Pasta
Alfredo Sauce Without Heavy Cream
There are ways to lighten up both versions of Alfredo sauce. Betty Crocker has a light version, that still offers Alfredo sauce with cream cheese. Instead of regular cream cheese, however, which is found in many versions of Alfredo sauce, this substitute for Alfredo sauce has neufchâtel, or a lower fat cream cheese. This version weighs in at 330 calories and 70 milligrams of cholesterol, or 23 percent of the daily recommendation.
The Mayo Clinic has a recipe for Alfredo sauce that calls for 1 tablespoon of minced garlic sautéed in 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour, and slowly stir in 1 1/3 cups of nonfat milk, stirring until the mixture is thickened. Add in 2 tablespoons of low-fat cream cheese and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, stirring until the cheeses are blended. Without pasta, 2 ounces of this sauce contain 130 calories and 15 milligrams of cholesterol. It also has 350 milligrams of sodium, or 15 percent of the daily recommendation.
There are lots of substitutes that can be tested for Alfredo sauce that can still give creamy results. Betty Crocker has another light Alfredo sauce recipe that calls for evaporated nonfat milk. There are also butter substitutes you can use.
More Light Alfredo Versions
The American Heart Association has a lightened version of Fettuccine Alfredo. In this version, whisk together 2 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of nonfat milk until smooth, and pour the mixture into a saucepan. Whisk in 1 1/4 cups of nonfat milk and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes, or until thick, stirring with a spatula to keep the mixture from sticking. Then stir in 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan, a dash of pepper and the juice of one lemon. Pour the sauce over 1 pound of whole grain pasta and garnish with 1 1/2 tablespoons of Parmesan.
In this version, one serving of pasta is 2 ounces, which means there's 8 servings to a 1 pound box of pasta. With the pasta, it has 235 calories and 3 milligrams of cholesterol. It also has 155 milligrams of sodium, or 7 percent of the daily recommendation.
If you want to use spaghetti squash or another vegetable in place of pasta, that's another calorie savings. To trim the sodium in any version of Alfredo sauce, you can add less salt than the recipe calls for.
Alfredo's High Calorie Reputation
Some of the rub for Alfredo sauce stems from the high-calorie, high-sodium, high-fat versions often served in American restaurants. Olive Garden's Fettuccine Alfredo has 1,010 calories with 155 milligrams of cholesterol, 34 grams of saturated fat and 850 milligrams of sodium.
That's slightly over one-third the daily recommendation of sodium. It's also more than the daily recommendation of saturated fat, which the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting to 10 percent of your total daily calories. Serving sizes are often larger in restaurants, so if you really want Fettuccine Alfredo from Olive Garden, bring a container and plan to take half the dish home with you. Consumer Reports suggests keeping an eye on calorie and sodium totals in dishes when you order out.
Pasta as a traditional part of the Mediterranean diet was the subject of a study published in the July 2016 issue of Nutrition & Diabetes. This study of around 23,000 people in Italy found that eating pasta did not contribute to higher body weights, higher body mass index or higher waist circumference.
Last, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not cutting comfort food out of your diet altogether. Instead, the CDC offers these guidelines:
- Eat them less often. Cut back to once a week or once a month. You'll be cutting your calories because you're not having the food as often.
- Eat smaller amounts.
- Try a lower-calorie version, including nonfat milk, less butter and light cream cheese.
Alfredo sauce without heavy cream or lots of calories can still be tasty. You may even enjoy it a little more, knowing that you've lightened up the sauce.
- USDA Food Composition Database: "Cheese, Parmesan, Grated"
- USDA Food Composition Database: "Cheese, Cream"
- Ozy: "This Hollywood Haunt Is the American Birthplace of Fettuccine Alfredo"
- Betty Crocker: "Fettuccine Alfredo"
- Consumer Reports: "Find a Tasty, Healthy, Pasta Sauce"
- Betty Crocker: "Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo"
- Betty Crocker: "Fettuccine Alfredo (Light Recipe)"
- Nutrition & Diabetes: "Association of Pasta Consumption With Body Mass Index and Waist-To-Hip Ratio: Results From Moli-Sani and INHES Studies"
- Consumer Reports: "7 Tips for Healthy Eating at Restaurants"
- Olive Garden: "Nutrition Information"
- American Heart Association: "Fettuccine Alfredo – Delicious Decisions"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight"
- Splendid Table: "Fettuccine With Butter and Cheese"
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions"