Friday, May 13, 2011

Myth: Pasta makes you gain weight

Answer: Busted!

No matter what people believe, pasta will not make you gain weight nor will it make you fat. What will make you gain weight is the portion size of your pasta dish, and sometimes what you put in your pasta can be the real culprit. The normal serving size of pasta is one-half cup cooked, but when you dine at a restaurant, that portion size is almost quadrupled. In other words, if you finish your meal, that is almost an entire day’s grain intake at one meal. So, first step is limiting your pasta intake to one serving size, one-half cup. It can be difficult to tell without your measuring cups by your side, but if you are estimating, one-half cup is about the size of your hand cupped or a billiard ball.

What are you putting on your pasta? If you are a fan of fettuccini alfredo, for instance, you should know that the cream sauce is filled with fat and sodium! Believe it or not some sauces have up to one stick of butter per dish. If you just cannot break your cream sauce habit, try dishes that mix both red sauce and cream sauce, such as pasta con broccoli. If you prefer red sauces, these do tend to have less fat than the white sauces, but the trade off is that they are sometimes heavy on the salt and sugar. Try this recipe and see if you enjoy the lighter side of pasta.

Also, pastas are often accompanied by heavy cheeses. Cheese is a good source of calcium, but it is also high in fat. The good news is some cheeses that are often featured with Italian dishes tend to have lower fat content, such as mozzarella.

ingredients for fresh, healthy spaghetti dish
If you are cooking at home try these handy tips:
  • Try whole wheat pasta. You will be amazed how close it tastes to white pasta.
  • Avoid salting your water when boiling the noodles. No one needs extra sodium.
  • Look for recipes that use a light olive oil or low-sugar red sauce.
  • Include vegetables in your pasta. Extra tomatoes and green peppers are always great options.
  • Serve your pasta as a side dish, not an entrĂ©e. Try adding a salad and fruit to the meal.
  • Cut back on the cheese in your pasta.
  • Consider serving the meal on a small plate to make the portion size appear larger.

When you eat out and order pasta:
  • Ask the server for a no-salt-added version.
  • When you get your meal, ask the server for a to-go box and, before you start eating, portion out a serving and take the rest home. This may get you four or five additional meals!
  • Order a red sauce or olive oil-based pasta dish.
  • Some restaurants have whole wheat pasta, ask for it!
  • Ask for added vegetables.
  • Order a salad before your meal so you will not feel quite as hungry, but remember to ask for your salad dressing on the side. Instead of pouring the dressing on your salad, dip your fork in the dressing and then into the lettuce.
  • Ask for no cheese or light cheese.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy your meal!

Contributors: Mallory Bratton, KU Med Dietetic Intern & Denise Schmitz, M.A., R.D., Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 816-482-5854,

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