Is pasta fattening or good for weight loss?
Pasta is a staple dish in Italy and there are many different varieties available, including spaghetti, vermicelli, fusilli, tagliatelle, penne and macaroni, with each one having a specific shape and size.
They all taste delicious and are enjoyed throughout the world. Pasta is very versatile and can be used in a large number of recipes.
The big question is, can pasta be eaten when you are also keeping an eye on your waistline, or should it be avoided at all costs?
How is pasta made?
Pasta is generally made from semolina, a flour high in gluten which is obtained from durum wheat. On an industrial scale, the semolina is mixed with water, to form a thick gooey dough.
The dough is then injected through moulds, giving the pasta a specific shape. It is then dried and packaged.
Besides regular pasta, you can also get whole grain & gluten free pasta. The former is made from unrefined wheat and the latter is made from gluten free grains such as rice, amaranth and quinoa.
The table below shows the nutritional value of 1 cup (140 g) of cooked spaghetti:
|Fat||1 g||1 g|
|Carbohydrates||43 g||37 g|
|Fiber||3 g||6 g|
|Sugar||1 g||1 g|
|Protein||8 g||7 g|
When it comes to weight management, calories are important.
Calories are units of energy and all foods have them. However the number of calories in different foods can vary greatly.
For example, 100 g of cashew nuts have 553 calories, whereas 100 g of cabbage has only 25 calories.
This large difference is because cashews contain a lot of fat (which has 9 calories per gram) whereas cabbage is made up of more than 90% water (which has 0 calories).
Pasta has very little fat but it does have a lot of carbohydrate, which contains 4 calories per gram.
In order to maintain your current weight, you need to consume approximately the same amount of calories as you burn during the day (which you do naturally and when you exercise).
If you consume more calories than you burn (known as a calorie surplus), you will end up gaining weight over time.
The opposite is also true; if you burn more calories than you consume (a calorie deficit), you will lose weight.
Excess calories are stored as fat and this is what results in weight gain.
The number of calories that a person should eat will depend on their age, gender, weight, height, activity levels and overall goals.
You can use the calculator on this page to get a rough estimate of your calorie requirements.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 50 year old lady who weighs 150 pounds, is 165 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will require approximately 2000 calories to maintain her weight, 1600 calories to lose weight and 1200 calories to lose weight fast.
This means that even when you are trying to lose weight, you can eat pasta. A cup of whole wheat spaghetti will amount to 11% of total calories on a 1600 calorie diet. So a typical meal plan could look like the following:
Breakfast: a protein rich smoothie – 500 calories
Snack: 5 tablespoons of homemade hummus with carrot sticks – 150 calories
Lunch: 2 cups of cooked whole wheat pasta with vegetables – 448 calories
Snack: 1/2 a cup of cottage cheese and strawberries – 135 calories
Dinner: grilled chicken breast with vegetables – 384 calories
Total calories: 1617 calories
Obviously this is just an example and you should create your own specific meal plan depending on the number of calories you need. The main point here is that pasta can be part of a well balanced diet and should not be feared when trying to lose weight.
At the same time, it is true that low carb diets are very effective for weight loss. Since pasta is a carb rich food, enjoying it in moderation is vital when trying to lose weight.
Also, any food (no matter how low in calories), if eaten in abundance will lead to weight gain. Eating one or two cups of pasta is perfectly fine. However, eating seven cups in addition to your other meals will likely cause you to gain weight, simply because you will be consuming too many calories.
Whole wheat vs regular pasta
Whole wheat pasta is made from (you guessed it!) whole wheat, which contains all three parts of the grain: the bran (outer layer), germ and the endosperm. Regular pasta on the other hand is made from refined wheat, which has the bran and germ stripped away.
Many beneficial vitamins & minerals are found in the bran and germ, which is why it is a good idea to eat whole wheat pasta.
Also, studies such as this one have found that weight gain is inversely associated with whole grain food consumption but positively related with refined grains. This could partially be because of dietary fiber.
As you will notice from the table above, whole grain spaghetti has double the amount of fiber that regular spaghetti has and studies have shown that increasing fiber intake helps with weight loss.
If you have the choice, we would recommend whole wheat products over refined ones. This doesn’t just apply to pasta but to rice and bread as well.
Be careful of toppings
Pasta is fairly low in calories. However you are very unlikely going to be eating it on its own. Pasta is usually enjoyed with some type of tomato based sauce and topped with cheese. Whilst these may taste great, you should be wary of them at the same time.
Store bought pasta sauces often contain large amounts of sugar and fat, both of which send calorie number sky rocketing. Additionally, half a cup of shredded cheddar has more than 200 calories. Adding both on top of your pasta can easily transform a 400 calorie meal into an 800+ calorie one!
This doesn’t mean you should eat pasta on its own and force yourself to enjoy its bland taste. By all means eat it with various sauces and cheeses, but at the same time read nutrition labels and control your portions. If you can make your own pasta sauce at home, even better! That way you will know exactly what is in it.
Whenever possible, eat pasta with plenty of vegetables and a lean source of protein. This will help to balance out the meal and make it filling at the same time.
Pasta can be part of a weight loss diet if it is eaten in moderation. Eating too much of any food can lead to weight gain, so portion control is key. Whenever possible, choose whole wheat pasta over regular pasta.