Our weight management group just met at Luigi’s in Wayland last week. Committing to an Italian tomato-pot restaurant for dinner emphasized the need for a clear understanding of the caloric content of pasta.
The short answer is that cooked pasta, with a light tomato sauce, is about 50 calories per ounce by weight, or about 250 calories per cup of serving. The precise form of pasta (spaghetti v. shells v. whole grain pasta, etc.) matters little.
And what was the pasta portion size at Luigi’s? Well, my side dish of linguine (to accompany my veal piccata) weighed 16 oz. (Yes, I brought my food scale and tared out the weight of the dish.) That means the pasta side dish was 800 calories, quite an astounding amount. I certainly ate only a small portion of that dish.
For the details: Most pasta is listed as 105 calories per ounce dry weight. Pasta, when cooked, takes on water and increases in weight by 140% on average. That means that 2 oz dry pasta becomes about 4.8 oz cooked pasta. Various sources say that a cup of pasta (by volume) typically weighs about 5 oz, which closely represents the result of adding some simple tomato sauce to that cooked pasta. That cup then contains 210 calories of dry pasta, water, and about 40 calories of tomato sauce, hence a total of 250 calories per cup cooked pasta.
The moral: A single cup of cooked pasta in tomato sauce as a side dish is usually fine, costs 250 calories (without added cheese), and occupies a modest portion of your dinner plate. A two-cup portion will occupy a substantial portion of your plate and is 500 calories, far more than most of us should be allocating for a starch at dinner. And the portion I was offered, slightly over 3 cups (a full 16 oz) is designed to make you fat and diabetic and live a shorter life.