One of the downsides of eating low-carb is the lack of pasta – almost everyone I’ve spoken to about low-carb reacts with the same cry of horror: “Oh, I could never do that – I love pasta too much!” (or some variation). And with good reason – who can say no to a big plate of pasta with some delicious cheesy sauce? (I swear I’m not dreaming of that right now. Honest.) However, there are some delicious (and nutritious) low-carb pasta substitutes that make the low-carb lifestyle significantly more bearable than it would otherwise be.
How to use pasta substitutes
While we do tend to crave pasta, there probably aren’t too many people who enjoy sitting down to a steaming bowl of plain pasta. What we really love is when it comes covered with delicious sauces. In that sense, pasta is just a vessel – used to assist the transfer of your favourite sauce from the bowl to your mouth. That means that, provided the taste and consistency are similar enough, you can use a whole range of things as your pasta alternative, depending on what you’re craving.
Onward, to the substitutes!
1. Spiralized vegetables
I’m assuming that most people have heard of spiralizers, or seen them on TV shopping channels, or heard someone raving about them. If you haven’t, here is a very good example of one. The basic principle behind them is that you take a vegetable of some kind (I use zucchini almost exclusively, but other good candidates include cucumer, squash, sweet potato, etc.), use the spiralizer on it, and end up with spiral strands that can then be cooked as a spaghetti substitute.
Frankly, spiralized zucchini is my go-to for pasta dishes – it’s fantastically quick and easy to do, there’s barely any mess, it cooks in literally a minute or so, and has a fraction of the calories (17 per 100g compared to 130 per 100g). Ideal for just about any pasta sauce, too – if you pick a bland vegetable like zucchini, there’s little chance that its flavour will overwhelm the sauce.
To cook: This depends on the vegetable you’re using. For zucchini, I like to saute it briefly in butter (and I mean briefly – 1-2 minutes, tops), transfer to a plate or bowl, and cover with sauce. Other vegetables may be better steamed, but most can even be served raw, if you prefer some crunch.
Verdict: If you’re going low-carb, a spiralizer is almost an essential kitchen tool. Hands down the best way to make basically zero-carb and calorie pasta.
These are actually a little higher in carbs than is ideal (especially for a keto diet), but they’re otherwise pretty fantastic. Made from nutrient-rich black beans and water, they have fantastic consistency as a pasta substitute. If you care about things being gluten free, vegan, kosher, etc., then these are a fantastic choice. They also pack a fantastic nutritional wallop, as per 100g they have: 45g protein, 22g fiber, 3g fat, and 30g carbs.
To cook: Just like regular pasta. Boil some water, chuck these in for 6-8 minutes, drain and rinse. Given their low fat content (and claim to be sodium free), I’d suggest that your sauce be nice and fatty (remember: fat isn’t the enemy!). They may turn the water they’re cooked in black; don’t worry, it’s totally normal.
Verdict: Too high in carbs for a true ketogenic diet, but great for anyone simply trying to lower their overall carb consumption.
For almost the complete opposite of the black bean pasta, you could instead try making this much higher fat version of the Italian classic, gnocchi (courtesy of The Primitive Palate). The only ingredients you need for the basic gnocchi are mozzarella and egg yolks.
Full disclaimer: I tried to make these and, while delicious, they did not turn out as perfectly as the pictures from the recipe would suggest (they melted a lot more). That may be a result of using inferior cheese though, so don’t take my failure as gospel.
To cook: Once you’ve made them (see recipe for details), you can just fry them with mixed herbs, vegetables, a tomato-based sauce, or whatever you prefer. They do have a much stronger flavour than either of the previous pasta substitutes mentioned, so they’re not ideal for a delicate sauce.
Verdict: The carbs in this will come from the sauce, which makes them ideal. They are quite high fat though, so keep your portion sizes under control, and count your calories. A great occasional treat!
Alright, it’s not really mac n’ cheese, but cauliflower is such a great substitute that it doesn’t matter that much. You take your cauliflower, steam it for a few minutes, make your cheese sauce (using cream cheese, cream, cheddar, and mustard), combine them in an oven dish, coat with more cheese, then bake.
For this, you’re not even bothering with an extra sauce (let’s face it, no-one makes mac n’ cheese to have with an alfredo sauce) – it’s comfort food in its own right, pure and simple. High in fat, quite low in carbs (somewhere between zucchini pasta and black bean pasta), with protein somewhere in between, this is a fantastic meal for any low-carber.
To cook: As noted, this is an oven bake job. Check out this recipe for full details!
Verdict: Winter comfort food at its finest. A great addition to a low-carb diet.
5. Spaghetti squash
This amazing vegetable is basically a pasta dish all by itself. It’s an absurdly happy yellow colour, and when cooked, the flesh can be scooped out in spaghetti-like strands, ready to serve with your choice of sauce. It’s very low in carbs (around 7g per 100g of squash), although the average serve is liable to be more than that, so be careful if you’re on a keto-style diet.
To cook: Just throw the whole thing in the oven at 190 degrees (Celcius, around 375 Farenheit) for around an hour. Remove, cut open, shred flesh with a fork, and serve with your preferred sauce.
Verdict: Again, not ideal for ultra low-carb diets, but fantastic for anyone else.
So there you go – a good selection of delicious pasta alternatives with far fewer carbs, and generally better nutritional profiles. If you’ve heard of shirataki noodles (or konjac, or miracle noodles), and are wondering why I didn’t include them here, it’s because I already covered them extensively here. But the short of it is that I think they’re also a fantastic low-carb pasta substitute, though the odd smell can turn some people off them.
Hope this helped, and if you’ve got any suggestions of your own, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!