Pasta Salad, Lightened Up

by in Healthy Recipes, Healthy Tips, June 13, 2011
Corn and Pasta Salad With Homemade Ranch Dressing
Corn and Pasta Salad With Homemade Ranch Dressing

Pasta salad is swimming in hidden calories that’ll have you hiding from bathing suit season. Keep your svelte summer shape with these tips to lighten up this summer classic.  Plus, try our collection of Healthy Eats-approved recipes.

Traditional Pasta Salad
Tons of pasta, mayo, oil and other high-fat ingredients can sabotage a perfectly healthy pasta salad — traditional recipes contain around 310 calories and 22 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving. Plus, most folks opt for more than 1/2 cup.  To lighten it up, watch out for these common pitfalls.

The Pasta
Yes, pasta can fit into a healthy diet!  Knowing how to plan pasta portions is half the battle.  Traditional pasta salads usually call for around 2 cups of cooked pasta per person; that’s 400 calories without dressing or added ingredients. Aim for 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked pasta per serving instead.

Whole grains pastas contain more filling fiber and can make your salad more nutritious. Check out how your favorite whole grain pastas rated in our taste test.

The Veggies
Bulk up your pasta salad with seasonal veggies. They’re low in calories (about 25 calories per 1/2 cup) and loaded with vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients, so no need to skimp here!  Add tomatoes, broccoli, scallions, asparagus, bell peppers, summer squash or corn — the options are endless.

The Dressing
Here’s another potential calorie trap. Mayonnaise and oil can rack up calories instantaneously. Oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams fat per tablespoon and mayonnaise contains 57 calories and 5 grams fat for 1 tablespoon.  That may not sound like a lot, but remember most folks use an average of 1/2 cup of either to their pasta salad, which adds up to 906 calories from oil or 458 calories from mayonnaise! Instead, aim for 1 tablespoon of oil or 2 tablespoons of low-fat mayo or salad dressing per person, which will cut down the calories significantly.

The Extras
Cheese or beans are yummy additions to spike up flavor, but are also calorie-heavy. Aim for about 1 tablespoon of beans and 1/2 ounce of cubed cheese per serving.

It’s also important to remember that some folks have nut allergies or dairy intolerances, so a simple salad may be more suitable for a larger crowd.

Recipes to Try:

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

What’s your secret to lighter pasta salad? Tell us in the comments below.

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Comments (1,329)

  1. Jennifer says:

    I don't even use mayonnaise with my pasta salad. I use low fat balsamic vinaigrette combined with low fat Italian dressing. I also use tons of veggies in mine such as tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, red onion and fresh chopped basil leaves. The one thing I do add a little of is grated Parmesan cheese which probably adds a few more calories but it tastes great in the salad. I also use rainbow rotini and chopped black olives.

  2. jan says:

    mayo has 90 cal. & 10g of fat per Tbl, therefore it's even worse than stated above

  3. Laura says:

    I like to spice up salads without the mayo using lemon juice, herbs, and spices (cumin + lime + olive oil is a good combo). It sounds doubtful, but you won't actually miss the mayo! If you must have the creamy texture, try it with low-fat greek yogurt!

  4. Another great way to punch up the flavor of a homemade pasta salad is to use BBQ chicken in it then add a tablespoon or so of the BBQ sauce you used it and whisk it with olive oil and vinegar (and lots of black pepper). I am a total whole grain pasta convert, I can't actually remember the last time i had the regular stuff.

  5. moe says:

    perfect idea

  6. Jennifer Ransom says:

    I use Kraft Free Zesty Italian for my dressing. Great flavor and no fat etc. Still have to watch portions because of the sodium. I also use non fat mozzarella if I add cheese.

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