low carb pasta

The Ultimate Guide to Low Carb Pasta

Last updated: August 3rd, 2019

Pasta is one of the first things to go on a ketogenic diet. Noodles are usually made from wheat or rice and are pure carbohydrates. Coming from a Standard American Diet, removing noodles from the diet can feel restrictive. Luckily, there are several low carb pasta alternatives that can keep you from missing out on your favorite noodle dishes on a low carb diet.

Low carb noodles are typically made from vegetables like zucchini or squash. There are also low carb noodles made from vegetable fibers that are 0 carbs and 0 calories. These noodles are popular in the bodybuilding community when competitors are actively losing weight and they are looking for high volume, low-calorie foods.

Low Carb Pasta Alternatives

Zoodles

Zoodles are low carb noodles made from spiralized zucchini. You can purchase them already spiralized in the frozen section of most grocery stores. This is a convenient option, but not always the most cost-effective.

Zoodles can also be made at home using a spiralizer. To make the zoodles, just trim both ends of the zucchini, place it between the handle and the blade and turn the handle. There are also handheld spiralizers that can be purchased. These are slightly more difficult to use, but more affordable and less bulky.

Preparing low carb pasta with zoodles is simple. Zucchini is made of 95% water so cooking them may turn your dish into a watery soggy mess. The best way to keep zoodles al dente is to eat them raw. You can also experiment with sauteing, baking and boiling the noodles for different textures.

A medium-sized spiralized zucchini weighing 200 grams is 33 calories, 0g fat, 6g carb (4g net), and 2g protein. The equivalent weight in whole wheat pasta is 300 calories, 2g fat, 50g carb, and 10g protein.

Using zoodles as a low carb pasta base is great because they provide a similar taste and texture to pasta, but without the carbs.

Zoodles can be made from other vegetables besides zucchini. Carrots, pumpkin, broccoli stems and cucumbers are a few examples. Some of these vegetables are higher in carbs, but they are still a great low carb pasta option compared to traditional noodles.

Palmini pasta is a gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb pasta substitute. The noodles are made from hearts of palm, water, and salt.

To prepare low carb pasta using Palmini noodles, first, rinse and drain the noodles.  Then the noodles can optionally soak in milk to neutralize the flavor and smell of the hearts of palm. From there, add your sauce and heat on the stovetop for a delicious low carb pasta dish.

A serving is 26 calories, 0g fat, 4g carb (2g net), 2g protein. A serving is 76 grams. The equivalent serving of pasta is 100 calories, 0g fat, 20g carb, and 5g protein.

The noodles can be purchased in several grocery stores in the midwest. There is a store locator on their site. They can also be purchased on Amazon.

Spaghetti Sqaush

Spaghetti squash is a yellow-orange vegetable that is in season in the fall-time. When the vegetable is cooked, the insides can be shredded into long thin strands that are a wonderful low carb pasta option.

To get low carb noodles from spaghetti squash, first cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and place face down on a baking sheet. Poke a few holes in the skin and bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Once the squash is tender, scrape out the insides with a fork and top with your favorite sauce to make a bowl full of low carb pasta.

A 100 gram serving of spaghetti squash is 31 calories, 1g of fat, 7g of carbs (5g net), and 1g of protein. This vegetable makes a wonderful low carb pasta substitute because it is easy to prepare, low in carbs, and has a very fine angel hair pasta consistency that cannot easily be achieved with other low carb pasta options.

Miracle Noodles, or shirataki noodles, are low calorie, low carb noodles that come from the konjac yam.

The noodles are essentially calorie-free, which means they do not contain any carbohydrates and are the perfect low carb pasta substitute.

Miracle Noodle sells their noodles in various forms. They have traditional spaghetti noodles, fettuccine, angel hair, and rice.

There are other brands that sell shiritaki noodles, and they can be purchased on Amazon, or in many grocery stores in the Asian food section.

Shiritaki noodles can be intimidating to prepare because of their strange look and texture. If you cook shiritaki noodles improperly, they will not taste good and no amount of sauce can save the low carb pasta dish.

To prepare the noodles, first, drain the liquid and then lightly boil the noodles for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the noodles again and then roast them in a pan for about one minute without any oil or liquid.

Shiritaki noodles have no nutritional value, but they are a great low carb noodle option. They provide bulk to your low carb pasta dishes and they have a noodle-like texture.

Cauliflower

Mac n’ cheese was one of my favorite meals growing up. My favorite is the Velveta shells and cheese. It was only after transitioning to a low-carb lifestyle that I discovered the Velveta cheese is not even real cheese.

I was introduced to an alternative to mac n’ cheese using cauliflower not long after starting keto. This one from Keto Connect is an alternative to the traditional Velveta shells and cheese.

Cauliflower is a low-carb vegetable that is used to replace the macaroni noodles. When cooked properly, it has a similar texture to a noodle. Because of this, cauliflower serves as a great low carb pasta base for recipes that call for macaroni.

A typical cauliflower macaroni dish that serves 6 people usually calls for one medium head of cauliflower. Per serving, the 100 grams of cauliflower is 24 calories, 0g fat, 5g carb (3g net) and 2g protein. This makes cauliflower one of the best low carb noodle options.

Additionally, cauliflower is available year-round in almost any grocery store. It is easily cut up into florets that become the low carb “noodle”. Compared to other low carb pasta options, this one is the most convenient because you do not need special equipment, it is easy to find in the produce section, and it takes minimal time to prepare.

Low Carb Pasta at Restaurants

It can be intimidating to walk into a restaurant like Olive Garden where over half of the menu is pasta-based. However, more restaurants are offering low carb alternatives to some popular pasta dishes. Swapping out regular noodles for zucchini noodles, for example, is an option at several major restaurants including Olive Garden, Noodles and Company, and Dave & Busters.

Dave & Busters

Dave and Busters has a surprising amount of low-carb options on their menu. Their menu mentions that any burger can be served in a lettuce wrap instead of a bun, tacos can have lettuce wraps instead of tortillas, and any pasta can be substituted with zucchini noodles.

Their pasta options include steak and shrimp lobster alfredo linguine, chicken alfredo, tomato and basil linguine, linguine and meatballs and mac and cheese.

With traditional noodles, almost all of these dishes have over 100g of carbs. Opting for low carb pasta by ordering zucchini noodles can save up to 80g of carbs, depending on the dish.

Some of the low carb pasta swaps still have almost 50g of carbs, like the tomato and basil linguine with chicken, but this comes from the sauce and other ingredients in the menu.

The low carb pasta option with the fewest carbs is the Ultimate Mac & Cheese. The nutrition facts list this dish to have 21g of carbs when substituted with zoodles. Another great option is the Bistro Steak & Shrimp with Lobster Alfredo Linguine. Swapping for zoodles allows you to enjoy a low carb pasta with only 28g of carbs. The regular dish has 110g of carbs!

There are obviously other options on the menu that are lower in carbs than these zoodle dishes. However, it is great to see low carb pasta options on menus, and when a craving hits, these are wonderful substitutes.

Noodles and Company

Noodles and Company is known for their pasta dishes. The majority of their menu is high in carbs, and traditionally, salads were the only low-ish carb option on the menu.

However, Noodles and Company recently came out with several low-carb pasta alternatives. Three of their zoodle options include Zucchini & Asparagus with Lemon Sauce, Zucchini Truffle Mac, and Zucchini Pesto with Grilled Chicken.

Noodles and Company also serves Zucchetti Garlic & Wine Sauce with Balsamic Chicken which uses a combination of zoodles and spaghetti, so beware that this is not a truly low carb pasta. However, if you are transitioning to a low carb diet, this option is a good stepping stone if you do not enjoy the taste of zucchini noodles on their own.

The Zucchini Pesto with Grilled Chicken has only 18g of carbs for a full-sized portion. If this was made with traditional spaghetti noodles, the meal would have 88g of carbs. Similarly, the Zucchini Truffle Mac has 31g of carbs (only 24g without the breadcrumbs), compared to 131g with regular macaroni noodles.

Ordering a zoodle dish is a great way to enjoy pasta without sacrificing your goals of living a low-carb lifestyle.

Their menu is unique because they have specific low carb pasta dishes, instead of just offering a substitute for noodles in regular pasta. This is great because it makes low carb pasta options feel more mainstream and you don’t have to make explicit modifications to your order to make it low carb, it just is!

Although they have a few menu items dedicated to using zucchini noodles, they also offer zoodles as a substitute for regular noodles in any of their pasta dishes.

There is a nutritional calculator on the Noodles and Company website that you can use to figure out which of their traditional dishes will fit into your low-carb lifestyle. They have a “keto” filter that allows you to see what modifications are necessary to each dish to allow for a low carb meal.

Olive Garden

Olive Garden has a few low carb pasta options on their menu. Their low carb noodles and made from zucchini. Currently, the four zoodle dishes on their menu are different variations of a low carb pasta primavera.

There are better low carb options at Olive Garden. Salmon piccata, for example, is 11g of carbs and comes with grilled salmon and parmesan-crusted zucchini. However, the zoodles are a great low carb pasta alternative.

Currently, their low carb noodle dishes are the following:

  • Lunch Zoodles Primavera: 460 calories, 40g fat, 22g carb (17g net), 8g protein
  • Dinner Zoodles Primavera: 570 calories, 49g fat, 26g carb (20g net), 10g protein
  • Zoodles Primavera with grilled chicken: 720 calories, 54g fat, 27g carb (21g net), 37g protein
  • Zoodles Primavera with shrimp: 650 calories, 50g fat, 27g carb (21g net), 29g protein

Low Carb Pasta Sauce

A major contributor to carbs in a pasta dish can also be the sauce. Many traditional pasta sauces are high in sugar.

If you are ordering a low-carb pasta dish in a restaurant, it can be hard to avoid these added sugars. Opting for an alfredo or pesto, rather than a tomato-based sauce will usually help you avoid additional carbs from the sauce.

It is easy to make low carb pasta sauce from scratch. There are several recipes online for low carb pasta sauce, alfredo sauce, or cheese sauce. However, there are plenty of options for low carb pasta sauce in stores.

Before purchasing a pasta sauce, look at the ingredients on the back of the jar. If sugar is one of the ingredients, put it back on the shelf. Plenty of mainstream brands sell sugar-free and low carb pasta sauce, so there is no need to buy one containing added sugar.

Rao’s sells several low carb pasta sauces. Their ingredients are great, and they have several varieties including traditional marinara, 4-cheese, Italian sausage and mushroom, and more. They are available in most grocery stores, and online.

Pesto is great for a low carb, high-fat diet because it is naturally high in fat, and it can be made very low carb, depending on the ingredients. Traditionally, pesto is made from olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, basil, and parmesan cheese.

Many store-bought pesto sauces are made with sunflower or canola oil. These oils should be avoided and replaced with olive oil to avoid negative side effects like inflammation. Read this article about the importance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios to find out why.

There are a few options for store-bought pesto sauce that use olive oil instead of other inflammatory vegetable oils.

Delallo sells a traditional basil pesto that uses olive oil. It can be found in most grocery stores and on Amazon.

Alfredo is an excellent low carb pasta sauce. It is very easy to make from scratch. There is a quick recipe listed below for an easy homemade alfredo sauce.

Many store-bought alfredo sauces are also low carb. If possible, choose an alfredo sauce without modified corn starch or other added stabilizers and fillers. This can be difficult to avoid with store-bought alfredo sauces.

Rao’s has a decent option for Alfredo sauce. It contains modified cornstarch, but it is lower on the ingredient list. Also, their sauce only has 2g of carbs per serving, while most store-bought alfredo sauces can have 5 or more grams of carbs per serving. You can find Rao’s alfredo sauce in stores, or on Amazon.

Easy Homemade Alfredo Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 1.5c heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2c shredded parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder

Directions

  • Heat a saucepan to medium heat
  • Combine butter, cream cheese, salt, pepper and garlic powder
  • Once melted, stir in heavy cream, careful to not let the sauce boil
  • Slowly whisk in parmesan cheese
  • Simmer 5-10 minutes then serve

A Note About Gluten-Free Pasta

Companies market gluten-free pasta dishes as healthy alternatives on restaurant menus. However, they are just as high in carbs, or even higher than traditional noodles. If you are following a low-carb lifestyle, gluten-free pasta should be avoided.

Zoodles, miracle noodles and other low carb pasta options are naturally gluten-free. However, gluten-free noodles made from brown rice, chickpeas, quinoa, or buckwheat are all still relatively high in carbohydrates.

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