Pasta is a staple in many homes, but for those following a low-carb diet, it’s dutifully avoided. That doesn’t mean you have to skip out on pasta night, though. Whether you're looking to cut carbs, avoid gluten, or just want to try something new, there are plenty of pasta substitutes that offer a healthier alternative without sacrificing taste. Here are 15 creative and delicious pasta substitutes to transform your meals.
1. Zoodles (Zucchini Noodles)
Spiralized zucchini makes a great low-carb, gluten-free pasta alternative, perfect for light and fresh dishes. Bonus: You don’t need a spiralizer to make zoodles (though it often helps).
With its mild flavor, zoodles are a chameleon, adapting to whatever sauce is spooned over it. Plus, zucchini is rich in Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, and potassium. One large, raw zucchini contains 55 calories and 10 grams of carbs, so feel free to pile those zoodles on your plate.
Still interested in zoodles? Here's everything you need to know about zucchini noodles.
2. Spaghetti Squash
It takes a little work to produce spaghetti squash, but the results are worth it. After cutting the vegetable lengthwise and roasting it, take a fork and scrape the insides into long strands of “spaghetti.” Each cup contains 42 calories and 10 grams of carbs, making for a low-calorie, nutritious meal.
We won't pretend that spaghetti squash tastes exactly like regular noodles, but you can pour a homemade marina sauce over it and still get your Italian food fix.
3. Shirataki Noodles
Made from the konjac plant, these noodles are virtually calorie-free and great for anyone trying to cut gluten out of their diet. A traditional Japanese staple, the translucent noodles can be used in everything from soups to stir fries.
Each 100-gram serving contains 9 calories and 3 carbs. Shirataki noodles are high in soluble fiber and will fill you up quickly — though don’t expect to glean a whole lot of additional nutrients out of these water-heavy noodles.
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4. Lentil Pasta
Scan the pasta aisle at your local grocery store (or online vegan store) and you’ll likely find at least one box of pasta made from lentils. Rich in protein and high in fiber, lentil pasta is a nutritious option when you’re trying to avoid wheat. Lentil pasta can also be a great way to get your legumes in.
But if you’re looking for a low-carb alternative, this isn’t it: Lentils have slightly fewer carbs than pasta, but not enough to make it the primary reason for swapping it out.
5. Chickpea Pasta
Another popular pasta alternative, chickpea pasta is packed with protein and ideal for anyone trying to maintain a gluten-free diet. And with a lower glycemic index compared to regular pasta, it’s a beneficial choice for people with diabetes.
Chickpea pasta holds up well when cooking — no mush here, unless you overcook it. Use it in dishes like pasta salad, bolognese, or with creamy sauces.
6. Quinoa Pasta
Made from quinoa flour, quinoa pasta is a great source of protein and a bevy of other nutrients, including iron, magnesium, Vitamin B, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin E. Like other pasta alternatives on this list, it’s packed with fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer.
Quinoa is also a relatively sustainable crop, known for its ability to grow in a variety of climates and conditions, and with a lower water requirement compared to many other crops.
7. Carrot Noodles
Like zoodles, carrot noodles (coodles? Sure, why not) offer a healthy alternative to standard pasta. Strands of the vegetable lend a sweet and crunchy twist, adding color and nutrition to your plate.
The health benefits of carrots are plentiful: They could help lower your risk of cancer, reduce heart disease, and improve immunity, among other benefits. Use in Asian-inspired salads, stir fries, and more.
8. Black Bean Pasta
It may look like it, but this isn't squid ink pasta. There’s been a surge in black bean pasta in recent years, lending a darker tone to the pasta aisle. While black bean pasta is a good option for those following a gluten-free diet, the noodle substitute still packs in plenty of carbs.
9. Brown Rice Pasta
Brown rice pasta is one of the most popular pasta alternatives out there, a slightly chewy option that’s perfect for those avoiding gluten. It contains nearly 3 grams of fiber in one cup, and is stacked with micronutrients like magnesium and selenium. Pay attention while cooking — brown rice pasta can easily overcook and end up mushy.
10. Soba Noodles
Made from buckwheat, soba noodles are a great source of fiber and nutrients, though not everyone is keen on their nutty taste. It’s also important to read the label when buying soba noodles, as many manufacturers combine buckwheat flavor with other wheat flavor when making the noodles. Consuming buckwheat may be linked to improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Oh, and despite its name, buckwheat is also gluten-free.
11. Cauliflower Gnocchi
A low-carb alternative to traditional gnocchi, cauliflower gnocchi offers a similar texture with fewer calories. One cup of raw cauliflower boasts just 27 calories and 2 grams of fiber, and is rich in Vitamin C and K. In gnocchi form, you can toss it in a bowl with pesto or marina sauce and mimic your favorite gnocchi recipe.
12. Sweet Potato Noodles
If it hasn’t become obvious, you can turn plenty of vegetables into noodles. Case and point: Sweet potato noodles, which are packed with fiber and rich in antioxidants. They’re not low in carbs, but they’re perfect for vegetarians and gluten-free diners alike. Sweet potatoes are also known to prevent blood sugar spikes, inflammation, and high blood pressure.
13. Kelp Noodles
Noodles made from kelp? Sure, why not. Low in calories and rich in minerals, kelp noodles are an interesting, gluten-free addition to Asian-inspired dishes. Plus, experts want us to eat more of it: The nutrient-rich algae is packed with tons of vitamins and minerals — most notably iodine, which is crucial in making thyroid hormones.
14. Butternut Squash Noodles
A slightly sweet alternative to pasta, butternut squash noodles are perfect for autumnal recipes. One cup of cooked butternut squash offers 7 grams of fiber and 82 calories, plus it’s chock full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium. Use it in creamy mac and cheese, or toss with toasted sage, nuts, and mild Italian sausage.
15. Hearts of Palm Pasta
A low-calorie, low-carb option that mimics the texture of traditional pasta, you can find hearts of palm pasta in grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. True to its name, hearts of palm is a vegetable harvested from the center of palm trees. While you may often find it in a salad, it can also be shredded into noodle-like strands for a low-carb, keto-approved pasta dish.
Another benefit to hearts of palm? It can contribute to heart health and body tissue repair.
The Bottom Line
Embracing pasta substitutes opens up a world of culinary possibilities. Whether you're looking to reduce carbs, cater to a gluten-free diet, or simply add variety to your meals, these alternatives provide nutritious and delicious options.
From the vegetable-based zoodles and spaghetti squash to protein-rich lentil and chickpea pasta, there's a substitute for every palate and preference. So skip the box of whole wheat pasta and experiment with these pasta substitutes, reinventing your favorite pasta dishes along the way.