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The Pasta Lover's Guide to Healthy Alternatives

spaghetti on a table

Is there a way to remove all of the heavy carbohydrates and starch from pasta? Not quite. There are, however, ways to indulge in your favorite pasta dishes and save yourself several carbs and calories along the way.

Here are the healthy pasta alternatives to add to your pantry:

Spaghetti squash
Pop this veggie in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to an hour and it will be soft and buttery enough to scrape into noodle-like strands. Before baking, cut the squash in half and take out the seeds. Spread some olive oil over each side, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. When it's done baking, scrape out the "spaghetti" strands with a fork, then top the noodles with your favorite sauce and some grated cheese. Make it a full meal with Parmesan, lemon and baked chicken, following this recipe from Inspired Taste. Alternatively, you can use the squash itself as bowl and add your toppings straight to it.

Veggie pasta
Spiralized vegetable noodles are a genius way to enjoy to your favorite pasta dishes without overloading on carbs and calories. Zoodles are a fan favorite, made from zucchini. Other vegetables perfect for spiralizing include:

  • Carrotspasta alternatives displayed
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Parsnips
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Red cabbage

 

While there are roundabout ways to spiralize veggies without the proper tool, you'll want to invest in a spiralizer if you plan on eating veggie noodles regularly. Most come with interchangeable blades so you can mimic different types of pasta, such as ribbon-like noodles or thin angel hair spaghetti. Once the veggie is in its noodle form, you can prepare it the way you normally would pasta. Add tomato sauce, Bolognese, pesto, cheese - anything you want. Some are even great served cold like a refreshing summer salad. Cold cucumber noodles pair well with a simple basic vinaigrette, or try this recipe for a Greek salad made with cucumber noodles from Two Peas & Their Pod.

You can also use vegetables as a replacement for lasagna noodles. Try this eggplant lasagna recipe from Add a Pinch or this zucchini one from The Turquoise Home. Both vegetables mimic the texture of lasagna noodles, while adding their own distinctive flavor to the dish. 

Can't say no to mac and cheese? Try this cauliflower rendition for a much healthier alternative to the cheesy indulgence. You can still enjoy its creamy goodness without the hefty starch and carb content of the macaroni pasta.

Shirataki noodles
Made from yam starch, these noodles are so high in fiber that they're actually considered a superfood. Major bonus: Shirataki noodles have zero calories and carbs. They come in a package filled with liquid, usually located next to the tofu in the grocery store. All you have to do is drain the liquid, heat them up and you're good to go.

With zero calories and carbs, it's no wonder shirataki noodles don't have much flavor. However, they come in lots of different pasta shapes, so you can use them in any pasta recipe. They do pair especially well with Asian flavors, like in this sesame noodle recipe from Genius Kitchen. For more inspiration, check out these shirataki noodle recipes from Happy Body Formula.

Soba noodles
These Japanese noodles are high in fiber and protein, making them a filling, gluten-free alternative to traditional pasta. Made from buckwheat, soba noodles have a nuttier taste than other pastas and are typically used in Asian cuisine. Therefore, they pair well with peanut sauces, sesame oil, lime juice and cilantro. They taste fabulous served hot or cold and can be a versatile noodle to add to your cooking repertoire. Delish served up some tasty soba noodle recipes, including shrimp and snow pea stir fry, miso noodle soup, spicy orange soba noodles and crispy noodle pancake with barbecued pork.

Brown rice pasta
Another healthy base for a noodle dish, brown rice pasta is a great source of protein and magnesium. It's a also a tasty choice for those who follow a gluten-free diet. However, be sure to check the label to confirm that it's gluten-free before purchasing. Available in different pasta shapes, including penne and ziti, brown rice pasta is perfect for making traditional dishes.

healthy brown rice dish

Red lentil pasta
Packed with fiber and protein, red lentil pasta is another fabulous alternative for traditional pasta dishes. Plus, this protein-packed pasta will keep you fuller for longer. Carissa Bealer, R.D.N., shared an expert tip with Shape magazine: Check the label to make the pasta is totally bean-based. If it's not the first ingredient on the label, go for a different brand. You can use this trick when shopping for vegetable pasta as well.

Use this pasta in your usual cooking, or try this garlicky lentil pasta dish from Cooking Healthy to get started. Use the leftover pasta to make this creamy red lentil penne skillet dinner from I Wash You Dry. Another bonus: Its red hue is great for adding some color to your dishes, especially if you're hosting a dinner party.

Quinoa
While quinoa itself isn't quite pasta, it's a good way to avoid gluten and carbs while still loading up on fiber and protein. This grain is super versatile and healthy, plus a little goes a long way for this protein-packed superfood. Make a batch at the beginning of the week, then use it for different meals throughout the week. The classic quinoa bowl is easiest, like these recipes from Delish. Make a simple quinoa salad for lunch or dinner, go for Mexican flavors with a chicken burrito bowl or enjoy a roasted blueberry quinoa bowl for breakfast.

If that's not enough to satisfy your pasta cravings, you can also try quinoa pasta. Much like other pasta alternatives, you can use it in any of your favorite dishes.

Next time you're trying to come up with meal ideas for the week, look to these pasta alternatives to mimic some of your favorites dishes. Get all your flavor for lower the calories and feel great about your meals!