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Can I Eat Pasta And Still Lose Weight?

By Nick Holt / July 1, 2017

Let’s role-play for a second – you’re a health conscious person who’s trying to lose a few pounds and shed some body fat. Now, imagine you’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes by to take your order.

You already know that the fish and chips, or the burger and fries might not be the best option considering your current goals.

You find yourself debating between a “healthier choice” of either grilled chicken or sautéed fish. You get the chicken, and then the waiter asks you to choose a side. You have 3 options: (1) a baked potato, (2) penne pasta, or (3) brown rice.

Which option would you choose, and why? In the context of losing weight, which side dish do you think best supports your goals?

Do you have your answer? How many of you chose brown rice?

What if I told you that the penne pasta would be the best choice? You might be surprised to learn that of those 3 side dishes, penne pasta has the lowest glycemic index.1

The Glycemic Index and Fat Loss

While glycemic index (GI) is only one measure of evaluating a food, the fact that pasta has a lower GI does make it a more attractive option.

It’s inarguable that calorie intake has the biggest impact on the whole fat loss equation, but controlling your blood sugar levels by opting for lower glycemic foods definitely plays a role in weight and fat loss as well.

So, contrary to popular opinion, you can eat pasta and still lose weight. But this doesn’t mean you should make pasta the foundation of every meal. The key to eating pasta and getting a lean is to control your portions.

Strategies to Stay Lean While Eating Pasta

These 3 strategies will help you eat pasta while losing body fat:

1. Keep Your Portion Size In Check

Look to the Italians on this one. They love their pasta in Italy and eat it pretty much every day, sometimes even multiple times a day! How many obese Italians do you see? Not many.

The issue with pasta is that it’s very calorie dense (meaning that it contains a lot of calories per gram of food), making it very easy to overeat. But it all comes down to portion sizes. A single serving of pasta will do very little harm to your fat loss goals.

So if you keep your portion sizes under control, you should be just fine. One serving equals 1 cup of cooked pasta.

Pro Tip: When eating pasta, make it your side dish to complement a bigger portion of protein and veggies. See recipe below.

2. Choose Your Sauce Carefully (Or Make Your Own)

When I was a kid, I used to love fettuccini alfredo. The cream, the cheese, the fettuccini – it was incredible! I would order it every time my family went out to dinner.

But now that I’m an adult, I don’t eat it anymore. That is, unless I’m looking to pack on some weight. Why? Because alfredo sauce is loaded with calories – almost 900 calories in one jar!

When you decide to eat pasta, watch out for any cream-based sauces, especially when you eat at a restaurant. These dishes are guaranteed to be loaded with calories, and generally contain a much larger serving than if you were to make it at home.

But even if you avoid cream-based sauces, it’s important to be mindful of any store bought tomato sauces as well. Most contain added sugars, some variety of low quality refined oil, and possibly even corn syrup.

When you buy pasta sauce at the store, select one that’s tomato-based, contains no added sugars, and is made with olive oil.

Otherwise, you can try making your own sauce. It doesn’t have to be complicated and actually can be done in less then 5 minutes. Check out the recipe below

Pro Tip: Make your own basic sauce with garlic, olive oil, and basil with the simple below recipe.

3. Eat Pasta Post-Workout

After an intense workout, your muscle cells are more receptive to carbohydrates meaning you can safely consume carbohydrate-rich foods with little damage to your fat loss goals. There are two primary reasons for this:

• You need to replenish your glycogen (carbohydrates) stores, which get depleted by intense exercise.

• Intense exercise induces specific hormonal responses that make you more insulin sensitive post-workout.

This is why the bodybuilders at the gym freak the hell out if they can’t get their protein and carb shake right after a workout. It’s this post-workout anabolic window that they are trying to take advantage of.

While the research differs slightly on the duration of this post workout window, it is a safe bet to consume pasta within a 2-hour period post workout.

It’s important to note – this is a variation of “nutrient timing”, which is an advanced nutrition strategy that only works if you have a solid nutritional foundation already in place.

Pro Tip: Plan a pasta night after an intense strength workout that you do later in the day, preferably within 2 hours of eating dinner.

Regular vs Whole Grain Pasta

While regular pasta can definitely be a part of a fat loss diet, the same serving size of whole grain pasta packs a lot more nutrition with fewer calories.

Regular Pasta

Sure, regular pasta might be enriched with specific nutrients, including iron and b-vitamins, but it lacks dietary fiber which means that it’s less satiating. Without dietary fiber, regular pasta is digested faster and the sugars are released into your bloodstream more rapidly. This could cause you to be hungrier sooner, especially if you don’t include lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats in your pasta dish.

Whole Grain Pasta

Whole grain pasta, on the other hand, contains trace minerals like selenium in addition to b-vitamins and iron, and also has more dietary fiber. You’ll probably find a bowl of whole grain pasta to be more satiating, keeping you full for a longer period of time. If you add some protein and vegetables, you have a nutrient-dense meal that also keeps your blood sugar levels more stable.

Nutrition Regular Enriched Spaghetti Whole Grain Spaghetti
Calories 220 174
Carbohydrates 43 g 37 g
Fat 1 g 1 g
Protein 8 g 7 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g 6g

Quick & Simple Healthy Pasta Recipe

Now that you know the best strategies to eat pasta on a fat loss diet, try this delicious and protein-rich recipe after your next workout:

Penne Pasta with Garlic Basil Chicken & Veggies


2 cups whole grain pasta, cooked
6 cloves garlic
3 chicken breasts, precooked
3 cups broccoli & cauliflower
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup fresh basil, diced
1 tbsp parmesan cheese


1. Boil about 6 cups water.

2. Dice the garlic and basil, and chop the cooked chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes.

3. Add the pasta to boiling water. Turn the heat to medium and set a timer according to package instructions.*

4. In a large pan, sauté garlic on medium heat for 2 minutes olive oil. Add in cooked veggies and cubed chicken. Sauté for additional 2 minutes.

5. Remove the pasta from heat and drain the water.

6. Add pasta, basil and butter to large sautéing pan with veggies and chicken. Sauté for approximately 5 minutes, or until the chicken and veggies are warm.

7. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve it up!

*Cook pasta to al-dente, slightly firm to the bite. I would sample the pasta about 2-3 minutes before the recommended cook time to make sure you don’t overcook it. Overcooking pasta is a double-whammy – it not only tastes bad, but it also boosts the glycemic effect.

Nutrition: Makes 3 servings.

Per Serving:
460 calories, 40 g protein, 23 g fat, 30 g carbohydrate, 23g fiber

I hope this article gave you some useful tools to help you make better decisions about your nutrition. Now you know that, with a few simple strategies, you can eat pasta and stay lean. Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think!

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you eat pasta, or avoid pasta? Let me know in the comments below.


  • TD says:

    I'm Italian, and have had to seriously look at the way I was eating pasta before. I've switched to whole grain pasta, usually pairing it with a lean protein while majorly scaling down the portion size. I think the takeaway here is that you can eat pasta, you just have to be smart about it. Nice article.

    • Nick says:

      Hey TD - glad you enjoyed the article. Yeah, that's right, it's all about being "smart about it." I've found that to be true with just about every food out there - If you really enjoy a food, find a "smart" way that you can still enjoy it but not have it negatively impact your goals. Thanks for the comment!

  • Shaun says:

    As an italian .. I'll also comment :) .. I've switched to zucchini noodles (using a spiral tool) and haven't looked back. I've found I've enjoyed it more and it's less heavy after than noodles. Worth a try if you are a low carb diet. I'm actually somewhat surprised I don't see this offered in restaurants as an option in today's world.

  • Judic says:

    Great recipe! Really took away a prejudice I had against eating pasta!


  • Charles says:

    I loves pasta but have laid off it lately. Thanks for the article; the recipe looks simple and delicious. It'll be in my menu next week!

  • Eric says:

    I'm laying off the wheat. The potatoes would be the best choice regardless of the GI. They are the most satiating of the three for the calories load by far. An overabundance of refined wheat products makes it extremely hard to lose weight (and who in the world can eat just a small amount of pasta??). Pasta has a horrible satiety rating.

  • Bella says:

    Hi, I know this has nothing to do with the article. But I'm really frustrated right now. A year &half ago I started dieting cutting calories like crazy (800 or so) and exercising alooot every day no rest and most of the time cardio.however I lost alot of weight like 25 kg or so I weighed 52kg & I'm 169cm ... However,of course my hair thinned my period stopped I was feeling cold all the time .. Then after few months I started binging on dries fruits ... I had enough and decided to up my calories intake taking into consideration I'm eqting healthy however I ate like 1200 or so and got fat although its still low for my body & activities. Then for a two months now I stared being plant based vegan ... I dont reach the 2000 & I am getting fat luckily because I've been doing strength training I still preserve a good shape .. I haven't weighed myself but I'm pretty sure I'm around 70 or something .... I read it may be adaptive thermogenesis!! Will I plateau & then lose weight again as they presume ?? & what should I do now .. I really want my period back & be healthy again but at the same time I don wanna keep getting fatter :( plzzz help

    • Kristin says:

      Hi Bella,

      Thanks for sharing your story! Please reach out to support@builtlean.com for help with your fitness goals and obstacles.

      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

  • Sarah says:

    Hey Nick! I love this article! I actually wrote one myself that's titled almost the same thing, except I replace "Pasta" with "Cinnamon Rolls." I don't talk about glycemic index, but about calorie counting in general.

    I just thought it was funny that we had such a similar title and similar all-around point: you can eat pasta, you can eat cinnamon rolls, but do it in a logical and balanced way!

    Thanks for the great article!

  • Nick Holt, CPT says:

    Hey Sarah, thanks. Yeah, I just checked out your post, nice work - same sane and balanced message, right on!