Pasta is our go-to weeknight dinner because it's so easy. Dinner that comes together in less than 15 minutes — where do we sign up? But eating pasta every day can have its drawbacks, namely weight gain.
It's not that pasta is inherently a fat-forming food; it's mostly that we're eating too much of it. Did you know that the recommended serving size for pasta is just 2 ounces? According to the National Pasta Association (yes, that's a real thing), Americans eat an average of 9 ounces of pasta a day. That's almost five times more than the recommended serving size!
The thing is, when consumed within the context of a balanced diet, pasta can actually fit into your life without causing weight gain. We said it: it's possible to eat this Italian staple and still maintain a trim figure. For carb-lovers, hearing that bit of news feels a bit like winning the lottery.
Better yet, whipping up a slimmed-down noodle dish isn't time consuming or difficult, nor does it drastically change the taste. No, this isn't an elaborate joke; you've just got to learn the tricks of the trade—which we reveal below.
Simply use our time-tested tips to whip up tasty, guilt-free pasta dishes and keep shedding those extra pounds. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, you won't want to miss these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Pair It With A Side Salad
Before jumping into all the ways you can alter the actual pasta part of your dinner, let's take a moment to talk about your side dish. Although your noodles' plate neighbor may not seem important, it can actually greatly alter the slimming effects of your meal. Eating veggies before a starchy meal like pasta can lower after-meal blood sugar levels and boost satiety, according to a Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition review. Translation: Eating a side salad with some raw carrots and some of your other favorite veggies can help ward off after-meal hunger, which can help you consume fewer calories throughout the day and subsequently aid weight loss efforts. Bonus: Add a tablespoon of dressing to your greens. A bit of fat can help the body absorb cancer-fighting and heart-healthy nutrients like lycopene and beta-carotene. Just make sure you're not using one of The Most Toxic Salad Dressing on Grocery Shelves.
Swap Your Noodle
The average American consumes 20 pounds of pasta each year—and most of it is the refined white stuff. What's the trouble with that? This type of noodle is almost completely void of fiber and protein, two vital nutrients for weight loss. To boost the belly-filling fiber and hunger-busting protein in your meal, opt for a bean-based noodle like Banza Chickpea Shells (2 oz, 190 calories, 8 g fiber, 14 g protein) or Explore Asian Black Bean Low-Carb Pasta (2 oz 180 calories, 12 g fiber, 25 g protein). Alternatively, make the switch to Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Grain Pasta (2 oz, 180 calories, 5 g fiber, 7 g protein). Eating whole grains can not only fill you up more than the refined stuff, but it also lowers blood pressure and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Cut the Carbs
Although pasta is technically a low-glycemic index food (meaning that it doesn't spike your blood sugar levels as much as other high-carb foods, like white rice), it's still high in carbs — 70 grams per cup. And naturally, that also means it's high in calories: 352 per cup to be precise. Cut the carbs, and the calories, by switching to low carb veggies. Spiralize zucchini, carrots, or squash to make low-carb, low-calorie spaghetti! This swap is among the 22 Genius Tips To Cut Carbs, According to Experts.
Transform pasta from a diet no-no into a fat-frying champion simply by placing it in the fridge. When you cool down pasta, the drop in temperature changes its chemical structure into something called "resistant starch," which can help to decrease your body's glycemic response (helping you feel full for longer). Additionally, a Nutrition&Metabolism study found that these resistant starches can promote fat oxidation. Whip up a bowl of Italian pasta salad, Greek orzo salad, or tuna macaroni salad to reap the benefits. Or, simply eat your pasta leftovers cold!
Max Out On Veggies
In addition to eating a side salad on pasta night, you might also want to consider adding some vegetables to your pasta dish. Those who consume main dishes that incorporate veggies consume 350 fewer calories daily than those who eat their produce as a side dish, according to Penn State researchers. The likely reason: Veggies boost the amount of satiating fiber on your plate while also adding bulk. The result: You'll likely feel satisfied while taking in fewer calories. Mixed spiralized zucchini with whole-grain spaghetti, or add chopped and sautéed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, tomatoes and onions to your penne plate. Typically add meat to your lasagna? Replace half of it with fresh spinach and slices of yellow squash and mushrooms. The options are truly endless!
Use Cheese As a Garnish
Some pasta recipes tell you to mix the cheese right into the pasta along with the sauce. Don't do that. Most of the cheese that's added before the cooking process will likely melt away into the depths of the dish, becoming nearly invisible. As a result, you'll likely wind up adding even more to your portion once it's plated. To healthify your dinner, only sprinkle the cheese on top of the dish after it's on your plate. This ensures you'll get a bit of cheese in every bite without taking in additional "invisible" cheese calories along the way. Besides cutting back on waist-widening calories, this tactic eliminates a fair share of the artery-clogging fat, without drastically altering the taste.
Change Your Meat
We all love indulgent dishes like spaghetti carbonara and hearty toppers like meat sauce, but they aren't exactly waist-friendly. No shocker there! Spaghetti carbonara recipes typically call for thick-cut bacon, which carries about 70 calories and 6 grams of fat in two slices. Using the same amount of prosciutto in its place can save you 40 calories and 2 grams of heart-harming fat. While that may not seem like a lot, the savings may be far more than that depending on your portion size. Plus, every calorie counts when you're fighting back against the bulge. If meat sauce is your go-to, cut calories and fat without changing the taste with two simple steps: First, buy a lean ground cut of beef (that's the obvious part), then, after browning the meat in a skillet, put it in a strainer and rinse it with hot tap water—before adding any sauces or seasonings. This helps wash away excess fat clinging to your dinner, which will help save you time at the gym burning off your meal.
Re-Think Your Red Sauce
Speaking of sauce, a lot of the canned varieties are filled with excess calories, mounds of salt, and teaspoons of added sugar—not nutrients you want on your plate when you're looking to get lean. Making your own simple pasta topper (by combining fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil and black pepper over a hot skillet) is ideal. However, if you're short on time or not so skilled in the kitchen, opt for one of our favorite bottled varieties. Going with any of these options is sure to keep excess sugar, calories, and blood vessel-harming salt off of your fork. For the top options, don't miss our exclusive report: 40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces.
Change Up Your Fat
Fettuccine alfredo is often referred to as a heart attack on a plate—and with good reason. The Cheesecake Factory's chicken-filled take on the dish carries 2,300 calories and 103 grams of saturated fat. That's the fat equivalent of 51 Chicken McNuggets! And buying a canned alfredo sauce isn't much better. A mere half-cup of Newman's Own Alfredo has 180 calories, half a day's saturated fat and more than a third of the day's sodium. Yikes! Next time the craving for something creamy strikes, whip up Eat This, Not That's 540-calorie Loaded Alfredo with Chicken and Vegetables instead. Alternatively, make a creamy sauce by combining avocados, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice in a food processor. While this sauce is also laden with fats, they're the heart-healthy kind that can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Avocados can also quell hunger pangs and fry stubborn belly fat, which is great news if you're trying to slim down.
Think of your pasta as a side dish
Do as the Italians do (and not what they don't… 11 Italian Foods They Won't Eat In Italy), and make pasta just one course of your dinner—not the main event. Opting for an entirely carb-based meal is just going to set you up for an inevitable carb crash and weight gain. Let's face it: carbs just aren't really that filling. Well, not in the way we'd like; a high-carb meal can cause your body to retain water, causing belly bloat and water weight gain. On the other hand, meals made with satiating macros like fiber, healthy fats, and protein, will actually curb your hunger and keep you fuller longer. If you reframe pasta night to be a "dinner with a side of pasta" night, you'll set yourself up for diet success. Make sure you're pairing your pasta with at least one digestion-slowing food.
Arrabbiata sauce not only tastes great, but can also help you lose weight. What gives the classic pasta topper its better-body super powers? It's made with red chili peppers, which contain a spicy, appetite-suppressing compound called capsaicin. The compound also helps boost thermogenesis—the body's ability to burn food as energy—and keeps your metabolism going strong. Whip up a homemade version of the sauce yourself or pick up a bottle of Cucina Antica Spicy Arrabbiata. A half-cup of the stuff has 45 calories, 2 grams of fat and 3 grams of sugar—stats that put other jarred sauces to shame. If smothering all your noodles in Arrabbiata is too much for your tongue to take, try sprinkling red chili pepper flakes on your plate before digging in to reap the benefits. Spicing up your dishes just happens to be one of the 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.