The Balanced & Healthy Pasta Meal

Pasta meals are easy to prepare, economical, and always delicious. And something more: they’re a great way to get many healthy, nutritious foods into your diet. If you choose healthy partners, watch portion sizes, and are careful with the sauce, you’ll find it's not that hard to scale the new food pyramid:

Partners in the food pyramid. What's an easy way to incorporate the food groups of the nutrition pyramid in one dish? Pair up your pasta! When combined with healthy “partners,” pasta can provide the foundation for a nutrient-rich, low-fat diet that supports an active lifestyle. Healthy accompaniments include:

• Vegetables
• Fish
• Olive oil
• Tomato sauce
• Legumes (beans)
• Lean cuts of poultry and meat
• Low-fat cheese


"A pasta meal is very healthy if it uses vegetable or tomato sauce and/or accompaniments such as olive oil, fish and lean meat and small amounts of cheese. It is healthy because the fats are good —unsaturated — and the carbs are good — low GI — and you are getting lots of micronutrients from the accompaniments.

You are getting a balance of carbs, fats and proteins.”

―Jennie Brand-Miller, Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Sydney; co-author of THE NEW GLUCOSE REVOLUTION: THE AUTHORITATIVE GUIDE TO THE GLYCEMIC INDEX

Watch portion sizes. The new food guide pyramid also advises Americans to eat portions that are appropriate for a person's weight and level of physical activity. Eating carbohydrates, such as pasta, will not make you fat. But if you consistently overeat calories – whether they’re from carbohydrates, fat, or protein – you’ll gain weight.

Considering how pasta is often served in America, it can be easy to eat too much of it and take in too many calories. In a typical restaurant, a pasta entrée can be as large as five or six servings (based on a two-ounce serving size). That’s 600 calories before you even add the sauce!

So it’s best to eat a reasonable portion of pasta – about 1 to 2 cups cooked, which has around 200 to 400 calories, and little or no fat. Dress it up with a tomato- or olive oil-based sauce and toss in some healthy “partners,” and you’ll enjoy a good-for-you pasta meal. A two-cup portion dressed with a tomato- or olive oil-based sauce, and combined with healthy “partners” is the traditional and authentic Italian way of serving a healthy pasta meal.

Careful with the sauce. Many restaurants pair pasta with highly fattening sauces. If you’re counting calories, try to enjoy sauces that are high in calories and saturated fats (such as cream-based sauces) only once in a while and only in small portions. Instead, choose sauces that feature nutrient-rich food such as vegetables, tomato sauce, beans, olive oil and lean cuts of chicken and meat, and low-fat cheese.

To learn more about the new food guide pyramid and dietary guidelines, visit

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