Is Pasta Healthy?

Is pasta a diet buster? Or can it fit into a healthy diet?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #84

Pasta has gotten a bad reputation as some sort of carbohydrate nightmare. But I’m not sure that reputation is entirely deserved.   It’s true that pasta is high in carbohydrates and probably isn’t going to fit into a low-carb diet plan. But as I’ve discussed in previous articles, the low-carb life isn’t for everyone. And if you’re not on a low-carb diet, then there’s no reason you can’t eat pasta—within reason, of course.

What is a Serving of Pasta?

A one cup serving of cooked pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrates. And in the context of a balanced diet, 40 grams of carbohydrates is not a big deal. It’s the same amount of carbs as in a cup of rice, for example. The problem is that, for some reason, when it comes to pasta, we seem to suffer from some pretty crazy portion distortion.  For example, a one-cup serving of rice looks perfectly appropriate to us—even generous. But put one cup of pasta onto a dinner plate and it doesn’t look right at all. 

Think of the last time you saw a television ad for pasta or pasta sauce or for an Italian restaurant.  Picture the dinner plates: They’ve got piles of pasta higher than your head! A plate of pasta at an Italian restaurant might contain six to eight cups of pasta. We might not be quite that excessive when we make pasta at home, but few of us would serve ourselves just one cup of pasta. It’s just not what we’re used to seeing on the plate.

How to Portion Pasta

For some reason, when it comes to pasta, we seem to suffer from some pretty crazy portion distortion.

Personally, I’m a big fan of pasta and I always keep it on hand. It’s inexpensive, it’s fast to cook, and you can serve it a million different ways.  But I have had to train myself to recalibrate the portion sizes. If you’re trying to figure out how much to cook, a serving of dried pasta is about two ounces. For long, skinny shapes, that’s a bundle the size of a dime. For littler shapes, it’s about a half cup.  You can also mentally divide up the box. Each one pound box contains about eight servings.  Once it’s cooked, a serving of pasta equals one measuring cup, or about the size of your fist.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.