Pasta is a versatile food eaten across many cultures. However, it’s also notoriously high in carbs, which some people may prefer to limit.
You may want to avoid wheat pasta or carbs if you follow a low-carb diet, are intolerant to gluten or simply want to avoid feeling bloated and uncomfortable after a meal.
But if you don’t want to entirely give up on pasta and the scrumptious sauces it comes with, you might be interested in low-carb alternatives.
Here are 11 delicious low-carb alternatives to pasta and noodles.
Spaghetti squash is an excellent pasta substitute. This starchy vegetable originated in North and Central America and has yellow-orange flesh.
Once cooked, its flesh can be separated with a fork into strings which resemble spaghetti noodles — hence its name.
At 6.5 grams of carbs per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), spaghetti squash only contains about 20% of the carbs you’d expect in the same quantity of pasta (1, 2).
At the same time, it’s much richer in vitamins A, C, E, K and most B vitamins (1).
To prepare it, prick the squash in several places with a fork, then bake it for 30–45 minutes at 350℉ (180℃).
Spaghetti squash can also be boiled for 20 minutes or sliced in half and microwaved on high for 6–8 minutes.
Once ready, use a fork to separate the flesh into spaghetti-like strings and top with a sauce.
Summary Spaghetti squash can be boiled, microwaved or baked and provides a great, nutrient-rich alternative to spaghetti noodles.
Over the last few years, spiralized vegetables have taken the culinary world by storm — and rightfully so, since they provide an easy and attractive way to add more vegetables to your diet.
Spiralized vegetables are those sliced by a spiralizer — a kitchen device used to cut vegetables into long strips which resemble noodles.
Many vegetables can be spiralized, but the most popular are zucchini, carrots, turnips, beets and cucumbers.
In addition to being 3–10 times lower in carbs than pasta, these vegetable noodles are also great sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Adding more vegetables to your diet can be immensely beneficial and may lower your risk of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer. Eating more vegetables may also aid weight loss (, , , ).
To make spiralized vegetables, you’ll need a spiralizer, though a vegetable peeler can be used alternatively.
Don’t peel your vegetables, since the peel is where vegetables store most of their nutrients (12, 13).
Spiralized vegetables can be eaten cold or warm. If you’d like to warm them, toss the vegetable noodles in boiling water for 3–5 minutes until cooked but still firm — known as al dente. Overcooking will make them lose their crunch.
Summary Spiralized vegetables provide a nutrient-rich alternative to pasta and can be eaten warm or cold.
Eggplant, also known as aubergine, comes from India. Though botanically considered a berry, it’s more commonly consumed as a vegetable.
A serving of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of eggplant contains about 9 grams of carbs, which is around 3.5 times fewer carbs than the same quantity of pasta (2, 14).
It’s also a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals — particularly vitamin K, thiamine and manganese (14).
To prepare your eggplant lasagna, start by cutting this tasty nightshade lengthwise into thin slices.
Then brush both sides with oil and roast the slices until soft and golden, turning them once. Simply use these roasted eggplant slices instead of pasta sheets when making lasagna.
You may also skip the roasting step and use the raw slices directly if you prefer a moister dish.
Summary Eggplant is a popular low-carb, nutritious replacement for pasta in lasagna recipes.
Few people consider using cabbage as a noodle replacement, but it’s a deceivingly simple substitute.
At around 6 grams of carbs per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), it’s especially low in carbs. Incredibly, this quantity of cabbage provides 54% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin C and 85% of the RDI for vitamin K.
Cabbage is also a good source of folate and boasts an array of other vitamins and minerals (15).
You can use whole cabbage leaves as a substitute for lasagna sheets. Alternatively, chop the cabbage head into thin noodles to use in a pad thai or lo mein. Keep in mind that the leaves closest to the core are very tough and can be bitter.
Once cut, drop the cabbage into boiling water for approximately two minutes.
If used for lasagna, the cabbage leaves will be ready when they can be easily bent without breaking. They will cook further in the oven, so don’t boil them for too long.
If you’re using cabbage noodles for anything other than an oven dish, remove them from the water when soft enough to pierce with a fork.
Summary Cabbage is an unconventional yet nutritious alternative to wheat pasta. It can be used as a replacement for pasta in noodle or lasagna dishes.
You may have heard about using cauliflower as a replacement for rice. But it can just as easily replace couscous.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable with many potential health benefits, including a reduced risk of certain cancers. It’s low in carbs and rich in fiber, folate and vitamins C, E and K (, 17, 18).
Cauliflower contains 4 grams of carbs per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), 13% as much as pasta (2, 18).
To use as a replacement for couscous, break the cauliflower and put the florets through a food processor until they are grated into pieces about the size of rice.
The pulse function works best, as you don’t want to over-blend.
Drizzle a bit of oil in a large skillet and sauté the cauliflower couscous for 1–2 minutes. Then cover with a lid and cook for an additional 5–8 minutes, or until tender.
The end product can be used as couscous in recipes.
Summary Cauliflower is one low-carb alternative to couscous. It’s nutritious and may offer additional health benefits.
Celeriac originates from the Mediterranean and is related to celery. It’s a root vegetable that has a celery-like, slightly spicy flavor.
Celeriac is especially rich in phosphorus, manganese, vitamin C and vitamin B6 (19).
It has slightly more carbs than cauliflower, at 6 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). However, it still makes a healthy alternative to pasta.
To prepare celeriac couscous, cut the vegetable into smaller pieces. Then, follow the same process as you would for cauliflower, dicing it in a food processor and sautéing until tender.
Summary Celeriac, another low-carb alternative to couscous, tastes strongly of celery and provides plenty of phosphorus, as well as other nutrients.
Sprouts are seeds which have germinated and become very young plants.
Many types of seeds can be sprouted. For instance, sprouts can be made from beans, peas, grains, vegetable seeds, nuts and other seeds.
The nutrient content of sprouts varies depending on the type of seed. However, sprouts are generally low in carbs and rich in protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and vitamins C and K. (20, 21, 22).
They range from 7% for alfalfa sprouts to 70% for lentil sprouts of the carb content of pasta (2).
The sprouting process also tends to reduce the number of antinutrients naturally found in seeds. This makes sprouts easier for your body to digest (23).
To replace pasta with sprouts, first blanch them by boiling for a few seconds, removing almost immediately. Then run cold water over your sprouts to stop the cooking process. Drain and top with your favorite sauce.
It’s worth noting that sprouts are often linked to an increased risk of food poisoning. Be sure to purchase only fresh, properly refrigerated sprouts to reduce your risk of foodborne illness (24).
Summary Sprouts are an ultra-quick pasta replacement — low in carbs, rich in nutrients and easy to digest. Buy fresh, refrigerated sprouts to reduce your risk of food poisoning.
Onions are a scrumptious yet uncommon replacement for pasta.
They contain 1/3 of the carbs of regular pasta and are rich in fiber, vitamin C, B6, folate, potassium and phosphorus (2, 25).
Onions are also a great source of flavonoid antioxidants, which offer health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and improved heart health (, ).
To pastify your onions, peel and slice them into 1/4-inch (0.5-cm) slices, then separate each ring and place them in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes, or until the onions begin to brown. Stir halfway through roasting.
Finally, top with sauce and your favorite garnishes.
Summary Onions are a flavorful, low-carb alternative to pasta. They’re rich in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds which may boost your health.
Shirataki noodles are long, white noodles also known as konjac or miracle noodles.
They’re a popular, low-carb alternative to pasta because they’re very filling yet have few calories. They’re made from a type of fiber known as glucomannan, which comes from the konjac plant.
Glucomannan is a soluble fiber, which means it can absorb water and form a viscous gel in your gut. This slows down your digestion, which can help you feel fuller longer ().
Soluble fibers provide food for your gut bacteria, which then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are thought to help lower inflammation and boost immunity (, , ).
Shirataki noodles are easy to prepare. Simply unpack and rinse them well under hot running water to remove the liquid and warm them up. Then add your sauce of choice.
Alternatively, you can heat the noodles in a skillet. This will remove some of the excess water and turn the noodles’ naturally mushy texture into a more noodle-like one.
Summary Shirataki noodles are a very low-carb, low-calorie alternative to pasta. They are also rich in soluble fiber, which can help you feel fuller longer.
Tofu noodles are a variation on the traditional shirataki noodles. They’re made from a blend of tofu and glucomannan fiber and provide only a few additional calories and carbs.
Buy these noodles packaged and prepare them the same way you would shirataki noodles.
Tofu is rich in protein and beneficial plant compounds and may protect against health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers (, , , , ).
Summary Tofu noodles are made from a popular soy-based meat alternative and pack plenty of protein into your dish.
Seaweed pasta is a novel low-carb alternative to pasta.
It simply consists of seaweed that has been harvested, rinsed and dried. Thus, it will add a sea-like flavor to your dish.
While seaweed is naturally low in calories and carbs, it’s packed with minerals. It’s a particularly rich source of vitamin K, folate, magnesium, calcium and iron. It also provides a good dose of iodine depending on the variety (, 38, 39).
Seaweed averages around 30% of the carb content of wheat pasta (2).
The seaweed varieties used to replace pasta naturally resemble spaghetti or fettuccine. For cooking, simply place them in boiling water for 5–15 minutes or until the seaweed achieves your desired consistency.
Alternatively, try steaming the seaweed noodles for 20–35 minutes. This allows them to retain a firmer consistency.
Summary Seaweed is a colorful replacement for pasta. Keep in mind that it will add a sea-like flavor to your dishes.
There are many low-carb alternatives to pasta.
Fresh vegetables, seaweed and fiber-rich noodle replacements are some of the most popular options. These not only contain far fewer carbs but also much higher levels of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds than traditional wheat pasta.
Simply toss these newfangled noodles with your favorite pasta sauce and enjoy.