This is a question I'm frequently asked and the answer is one that is probably best answered by working through some quick facts. So, here we go…
How much pasta do we eat?
In Italy, where pasta is a much-loved staple, people manage to munch through an average of 24 kilograms per person, per year. (1) This means that they are by far, the highest pasta-eating country in Europe.
And what are the rates of obesity in Italy and other pasta eating countries?
Italy has an obesity rate of 20 per cent of the population (2). They eat an average of 20kg of pasta per person per year.
France has an obesity rate of 18 per cent of the population. They eat 9kg of pasta per person per year.
Hungary has an obesity rate of 26 per cent of the population. They eat an average of 7.5kg of pasta per person per year.
The UK has an obesity rate of 28 per cent of the population but eat an average of 3.5 kg of pasta per person per year.
What does this tell us?
Well, in the UK and Hungary less pasta is eaten per person than in Italy and France, yet obesity rates in the UK and Hungary are significantly higher. It doesn't look as though the finger can be pointed directly as pasta per se as a food that automatically is 'fattening'.
So, let's look at pasta in a bit more detail
If you weigh out an 80g portion of raw pasta, once cooking, it absorbs water and swells up and now weighs 200g.
This portion gives us 286 calories.
It's the same calories as you get in a 200g portion of cooked rice.
If you had 200g of bread – four average slices, it gives you 446 calories.
200g of potatoes would be 200 calories.
So, this portion of pasta on it's own is 286 calories.
Now comes the interesting bit…
If you add:
150g of Bolognese sauce adds, 246 calories giving a total of 532 calories
150g of carbonara sauce adds, 230 calories giving a total of 516 calories
150g of tomato sauce adds, 73 calories giving a total of 359 calories
20g of pesto sauce adds, 83 calories giving a total of 369 calories
And what about Parmesan?
That's 62 calories per tablespoon
And garlic bread?
Well, if you also have an 80g portion of garlic bread, this is another 280 calories.
Pasta + Bolognese + Parmesan + garlic bread = 874 calories
And remember, a lot of us would look at this serving of pasta and not think it is big enough
Increase the size of the pasta Bolognese or pasta carbonara by even 25 per cent and suddenly you are up to almost 1,100 calories…before any drinks and pudding.
How do I make my pasta filling not fattening?
A 200g portion of pasta with a tomato sauce and a big salad on the side is just 380 calories in total. It's a similar amount for a tomato sauce with some seafood. Even pasta with 20g of pesto and a big salad on the side is around 390 calories in total.
And here's more good news
Pasta is low glycaemic index. This means that it is digested quite slowly. Delivering a steady supply of blood glucose, which may help us to feel full for quite a good amount of time after eating.
The 200g serving gives us just over 3g of fibre. This is a tenth of our daily 30g goal.
Switch to wholegrain pasta and the same size serving gives you almost a third of your daily fibre.
And scientists think that this will help to keep you feeling even fuller. It's certainly worth a try.
And remember, Italian's serve their pasta 'al dente', which means that it has a little 'bite' and is not soft and over cooked. This traditional cooking method also helps to make it more filling as it takes slightly longer to digest.
So what's the bottom line; is pasta fattening?
In itself, no, pasta is not 'fattening'.
To enjoy pasta as part of a healthy and balanced style of eating, check your portion sizes, which sauce you chose and what you eat and drink within the same meal. If you get these things 'right', you can enjoy a bowl of delicious pasta, any day of the week!
1) UN.A.F.P.A Union Des Associations De Fabricants De Pates Alimentaires (Union of Organisations of Manufactures of Pasta Products)
2) Statista. WHO 2016 obesity rates data.