Pasta is the foundation of so many favorite recipes—from spaghetti and lasagna to goulash to tuna casserole to Pad Thai. Yet, many people are turning away from pasta to cut carbs, cut calories, avoid gluten, or just to lighten up the dinner menu to prevent feeling heavy, bloated, and lethargic. After all, a one-cup serving of traditional pasta can weigh you down with 221 calories and 43 grams of carbs with a mere 2.5 grams of fiber. But it’s so hard to give up your favorite dishes. Enter low-carb pasta alternatives. There are numerous choices available. So, what are the best pasta alternatives?
Even if you aren’t waging war against carbs (including pasta), there are other delicious options that can set the stage perfectly for your favorite “pasta” dishes. Some of them can also help increase the amount of vegetables, fiber, and protein to boot.
Let’s dig into the best low-carb pasta alternatives…
7 Best Low-Carb Pasta Alternatives
1. Spaghetti Squash
Could it be any more obvious how perfect this squash is as one of the best pasta alternatives? Once cooked, just use a fork to separate the strings, which look, as the name suggests, very much like spaghetti.
A one-cup serving provides a mere 31 calories, 7 grams of carbs (1.5 grams being fiber), and a full serving of vegetables.
It takes up to 45 minutes to bake a spaghetti squash, but it can also be boiled in 20 minutes or microwaved for 6 to 8 minutes. Perhaps the easiest way to make spaghetti squash, though, is in the Instant Pot®. And it takes just seven minutes.
Now all you have to do is decide if you want to top it with your favorite marinara, butter and cheese, or Thai topping.
2. Zoodles (and Other Spiralized Vegetables)
Another veggie-rich option is to spiralize vegetables. Zucchini gained a reputation as a simple low-carb pasta alternative (aka zoodles), but many vegetables can be used in this way, including carrots, turnips, beets, and even cucumbers.
The easiest way to spiralize vegetables is using, well, a spiralizer. However, a vegetable peeler works as well. And many food processors now come with a spiralizing option to give you a pile of your low-carb pasta alternative in seconds.
Two cups of zoodles made with zucchini provide just 66 calories, 12 grams of carbs (with 4 grams of fiber). Don’t bother peeling your vegetables first as that’s where you find most of the nutrients.
Not sure what to top your zoodles with today? Give this amazing shrimp scampi recipe or zoodles with basil avocado sauce a try! Both are perfect for a light summer meal.
If you’re a fan of lasagna and think there are no other options, consider eggplant (aka aubergine) to replace your big fat lasagna noodles. Just cut the eggplant lengthwise into thin slices (if you have one, a mandoline slicer makes fast work of this and keeps the slices more uniform for cooking), add a little salt to help pull out some of the water content, wipe off the moisture and excess salt, and they’re ready to layer in your lasagna dish.
If you want a firmer “noodle,” brush or spray the eggplant slices with some olive oil and place in the oven to roast until they’re golden (turn once while cooking) before they become your low-carb pasta alternative.
Per one-cup serving, you’ll find a mere 20 calories, 4.8 grams of carbs, including 2.5 grams of fiber. Your lasagna will be lighter in calories and carbs but still loaded with the taste you love.
Cabbage? To replace pasta? Hear me out here… if your favorite pasta dish is of the Asian variety (e.g., Lo Mein or Pad Thai), you couldn’t find an easier pasta alternative. Just chop your cabbage into thin noodles (a food processor makes quick work of this), drop them into boiling water for about two minutes, and top with your favorite recipe like this Keto-Friendly Green Chicken Curry, Pad Thai, sesame ginger sauce, or even make a spicy stir-fried cabbage.
A full cup of shredded cabbage provides just 17 calories, 4.1 grams of carbs with 1.8 grams of fiber. Cabbage is also loaded with vitamins C and K and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.
5. Other Vegetables
Now that you have a few ideas, use your imagination. If your recipe calls for couscous or orzo, why not try riced cauliflower instead? If your recipe is onion-rich, could you use sautéed onion as the “pasta” base instead? Other low-carb pasta alternatives include sliced kohlrabi or celeriac if you want a firmer foundation. Your vegetable-rich, pasta-free options are really endless.
What if, however, your topping is already mostly vegetables, and you’re looking for something a little bit heartier to step in for the pasta?
6. Legume and Lentil Pastas
If you want your pasta to bring in the plant-based protein, fiber, and flavor (without the gluten), then bean- or lentil-based pasta hits the mark. Even at your local grocery store, you’re likely to find pastas made with chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and more.
Check the labels carefully, though, as you’ll want to look for one that’s made with just one ingredient (e.g., black bean flour in Trader Joe’s Organic Black Bean Rotini); watch out for those that have a number of other additives, like tapioca and xanthan gum, which can increase the carb load.
If you don’t love the taste or texture of the first brand you try, it’s worth it to continue the exploration. Brands can vary drastically from one to the next, and one may work better with your particular recipe than with another. For example, in my opinion, Trader Joe’s Organic Black Bean Rotini works better in a cold pasta salad with tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, and a touch of cheese than it does with simple marinara sauce. Yet, others may disagree.
You can also find other store-bought low-carb pasta alternatives, including some made with almond flour. Again, if you want to try one, make sure you double check the label to ensure you are comfortable with the ingredients as well as the calories and carbs per serving.
7. Homemade Pasta
If you’re a dedicated chef (or have a good friend or family member who is), then you know how amazing homemade pasta is. It may take a bit more time to prepare, but it’s well worth the effort. And you can choose to replace your usual pasta flour with almond or coconut flour or make an egg pasta that’s similar to the keto-friendly cloud bread made with cream cheese and eggs (some recipes also add butter, gluten, almond flour, or coconut flour) and baked in the oven for just 5 to 10 minutes before being sliced into noodles.
Best Low-Carb Pasta Alternatives: Recap
Eating healthy isn’t just about calories and nutrition; it’s also about pleasure and finding recipes you love. Fortunately, cutting back on the calories and carbs (while adding nutrition) doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite pasta dishes. When you combine the best low-carb pasta alternatives with some curiosity, kitchen exploration, and fun, you’re sure to find the perfect replacement for your favorite dish!