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The question: I love pasta. Can I eat it and still lose weight?

The answer: Yes! Of course you can eat pasta and lose weight, provided of course, you keep your portion size in check and it's not stuffed with meat or smothered with cheese or Alfredo sauce.

By itself, pasta is a nutritious food. It contains almost no fat, cholesterol and sodium and is an excellent source of low glycemic carbohydrates. Foods with a low glycemic index are broken down slowly in the body and release their carbohydrate (glucose) gradually into the bloodstream. As a result, they can help you feel full longer after eating.

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So, how much pasta can you eat if you're trying to lose weight? Well, consider that one food guide serving – one-half cup – of cooked pasta (no sauce) has 104 calories. I am not suggesting you eat only half a cup of noodles, that's not much. For a meal, I typically advise my weight loss clients to keep their portion of cooked pasta to 1 to 1.5 cups (women) and 1.5 to 2 cups (men).

The serving size of pasta on nutrition labels is given as a dry weight, so it can be hard to know how much to cook. In general, for small-to-medium-shaped (macaroni, penne, fusilli) and long-shaped pasta (spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine), 56 grams dry weight (about ½ cup) yields one cup (250 ml) of cooked pasta. A serving size of 85 grams dry (about ¾ cup) will yield about 1.5 cups (375 ml) of cooked pasta.

Ideally, top your pasta with tomato sauce which is low in calories and fat and a good source of vitamins A and C. Tomato sauce is also an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with protection from certain cancers. If you're using a store-bought pasta sauce, look for a product with no more than 70 calories, 1 gram saturated fat and 350 milligrams of sodium per one-half cup serving.

To help you feel satisfied, be sure to include protein in your pasta sauce – lean ground turkey, chicken breast, shrimp, white kidney beans, and so on. Bulk up your sauce by adding plenty of vegetables,such as chopped zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, rapini and baby spinach.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct ( www.lesliebeck.com ).

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