Don't fear pasta—despite its rap for being notoriously high in carbs and calories, it can actually become a healthy meal for when you're looking to lose weight, depending on the type of pasta noodle and combination of ingredients.
With nutrient-packed ingredients and slimmed-down pasta options, which offer more protein, fiber, and complex carbs, as opposed to lackluster refined carbs and sugars, you can make yourself a quick, simple, and delicious pasta dish that's versatile and perfect for lunch or as a protein topper that'll fill you up, not out.
"This is especially true when it's combined with balanced ingredients like fiber-rich veggies, heart-healthy fats, and satiating protein options," says registered dietitian nutritionist Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook.
Read on for six easy pasta combinations to experiment with in the kitchen, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age, Say Dietitians.
Cauliflower Pasta + Pesto + Fresh Sliced Tomato
"Cauliflower pasta is actually very delicious and this veggie is versatile to make and use as carb-replacements, such as with gnocchi and pizza crust," says Hultin. "Using it as a base just adds extra fiber and another serving of veggies, and you can then combine it with other savory veggies, like tomato, and add a satiating dressing like pesto," she adds.
Plus, pesto can be heart-healthy thanks to the use of nuts, such as walnuts, and some olive oil. It's also a vehicle for adding protein. "When made with nuts and cheese, you'll get a little protein and fat as well, so it's a meal that's even more filling and satisfying," Hultin says.
Black Bean Pasta + Grilled Chicken + Olive Oil
"Black bean pasta is higher in both protein and fiber than traditional pasta and adding grilled chicken or strips of grilled tempeh, for a plant-based option instead, increases protein further," says Hultin.
And dressing it with heart-healthy olive oil, instead of sweet or calorie-dense pasta sauces, creates a balanced dish that's perfect for a lunch or dinner that targets weight loss and improved health. Be sure to add a veggie like broccoli to this one for extra texture and crunch.
Chickpea Pasta + Salmon + Eggplant
A high-protein pasta alternative with excellent texture, chickpea pasta mimics regular pasta pretty well, so it's a good option especially at the beginning of your weight loss plan, as an easier transition. "Top it with grilled eggplant and protein-rich salmon for a Mediterranean-inspired dish that also has omega-3 fats," she suggests, which helps promote lower inflammation levels, improved heart health and disease prevention, as well as more potential for weight loss.
"For even more flavor, add kalamata olives," she says. Olives also boost healthy fat content and provide some sodium, which might be particularly needed if you're eating this meal for post-workout recovery fuel.
Edamame Pasta + Sliced Black Olives + Sautéed Spinach
"Edamame is packed with protein but also contains unique antioxidants that have proven health benefits so top your edamame pasta with sliced black olives for a heart-healthy fat and add some sautéed spinach for extra fiber and to mix up the texture in the dish," she says. Drizzle the pasta noodles and salad with simple and clean extra virgin olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper for electrolytes and flavor.
Whole Wheat Pasta + Asparagus + Goat Cheese
Whole wheat pasta adds a chewy texture, a good dose of essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, and additional fiber content to improve satiety power and gut health to aid in weight loss efforts. "Add in a beautiful green vegetable like asparagus, prepared as being lightly steamed, then sliced, and top it with a dollop of goat cheese or a non-dairy alternative for a zesty protein-rich option," says Hutlin. Nutritional yeast is a vegan option that's high in protein.
Zoodles + Tofu + Chopped Nuts
Keep your zoodles (zucchini noodles) super simple by steaming them lightly, so they don't get too soft and mushy, and then topping them with a dressing that has healthy fat, antioxidants, and flavor. Hultin recommends using olive oil and lemon dressing, here.
"This is a perfect 'pasta' dish to top with air-fried tofu for a crisp texture and protein," says Hultin. "Sprinkle toasted and chopped nuts on top, like peanuts, cashews, or pistachios, which add nutrients, protein, texture, and healthy, unsaturated fatty acids," she suggests.