Is Pasta Fattening?

Fish with bell peppers, onions and capers over whole grain spaghetti

A lot is written about pasta being a dieter’s enemy. Even some of my own patients and clients are shocked when I give them recipes that include pasta or when I suggest pasta salad as an appropriate side dish. The problem with pasta, I hear, is its calorie and carbohydrate content, and why I get asked “is pasta fattening?” by many clients.

Of course, if you know me, you know my position on blaming specific foods for rising weight and ill health. Individual foods matter little. Eating patterns matter immensely. No one food can be fattening. But your total diet sure can be out of whack.

Just recently, a new study made headlines claiming that Americans have had it wrong all along. Italian researchers find that pasta is good for weight control.

Pasta good … pasta bad. Pasta makes you slim … pasta makes you fat. What are you to believe? Is pasta fattening after all?

Before deciding that a food contributes to weight gain, ask yourself these questions: 1) How much of this food am I eating, or how much does it contribute to my total calorie intake and 2) What am I not eating whenever I eat this food.

If your plate is covered with spaghetti, then maybe your serving size is fattening.

If you’re not eating a cup of nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, carrots and zucchini for a mere 50-ish calories because you’re dipping into the pasta bowl for a second or third time – at about 220 calories per cup – then your overall diet probably needs some tweaking. Or maybe it needs a total makeover.

Healthy pasta

Veggie-Powered Pasta Sauce with Lentils

The Italian study in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes tells me that more pasta as a percentage of total calories is associated with healthier weight status when consumed with other traditional foods in a Mediterranean-style diet. It doesn’t suggest that adding a plate of penne to your current diet is a smart idea. In other words, don’t fear that pasta will make you fat. Enjoy a small serving of pasta with other health-boosting foods. Skip the Alfredo sauce. Instead toss your pasta with tomatoes, onions, garlic and any and all of your favorite vegetables.

How I Love Pasta: Loaded with Veggies (of course)

I nearly always choose whole grain pasta. There are quite a few brands that are very tasty. By the way, check out Oldway’s Whole Grains Council for more about whole grains and tons of recipes. Do it for Whole Grains Month!

  • Try an orzo pasta salad with tomatoes, artichoke hearts, bell peppers, and blanched broccoli. Turn it into a meal with the addition of tuna.
  • Soak up a delicious sauce. Serve pasta under chicken paprikash, Italian-inspired fish or Veggie-Powered Pasta Sauce with Lentils.
  • Toss with a mishmash of vegetables. I simply sauté mushrooms, onions, cherry tomatoes, chopped asparagus or whatever I have handy in olive oil and garlic. Delish!

What are some of your favorite healthful ways to enjoy pasta?



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Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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  1. Mary on October 9, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    I love pasta (too much) and will consistently overeat it. But using your suggestion to load up a pasta dish with vegetables is a helpful way to enjoy pasta without overdoing it. Aside from avoiding pasta altogether, which is also difficult to do, adding lots of vegetables is the first strategy I’ve found that allows me to enjoy pasta dishes without overeating. I purchased your book Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week yesterday and look forward to reading it and learning other new skills to eat better and manage diabetes. Thank you!

    • Jill Weisenberger on October 9, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks for your comment Mary. More vegetables is always my first strategy to lowering the calorie content of a portion of food. I hope you enjoy the book. Please keep me posted.

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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