Pasta Salad, Lightened Up

Traditional pasta salad is swimming with hidden calories that’ll have you hiding from bathing suit season. Find out how to lighten up this summer classic and still keep your svelte shape.

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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