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Five Excellent Low-Carb Pasta Alternatives

Published: 10/31/22 1:30 pm
By Catherine Newman

image with various types of pastaIf you like pasta but want low-carb recipes, these delicious options will allow you to hit your spaghetti spot without spiking your blood glucose.

We may be living in the Golden Age of alternative noodles. If you can’t—or don’t want to—eat conventional carbohydrate-heavy grain-based pasta, there are now a number of excellent options that allow you hit your spaghetti spot without spiking your blood sugar. 

I’m going to tell you about some of our favorites here, including what we love about them, what we love less about them, and what kinds of recipes they’re best suited to. A few generalizations:

  • Overall, these alternatives are more expensive than conventional pastas, but you often get a lot of bang for your buck, nutrition-wise. 

  • They tend to be quite low in calories and protein, so if you don’t pair them with a hearty sauce or a protein-rich main, you might be hungry later. 

  • They tend to be naturally high in fiber.

  • They are all naturally gluten- and grain-free, which is a huge plus if you have celiac disease or a grain allergy, or if you are on a keto-type diet.

Enjoy the recipes and feel free to mix and match—you certainly don’t need to pair a particular noodle with a particular recipe as we’ve done here.  

(Note: I am not addressing the many excellent bean-based pastas that are on the market—spaghettis and spirals made from chickpeas, red lentils, black beans, and the like. While they offer significant nutritional value, they are not low in carbohydrates.)

Shirataki Noodles and Tofu Shirataki Noodles

If you’re counting carbs and craving pasta, these are your best bet. Shirataki noodles are a traditional Japanese product made from a fiber called glucomannan, which is produced from konjac, an Asian root vegetable. Tofu shirataki noodles (our favorite) have tofu added for extra protein and chew. Both kinds are packed in water and are available, bagged. The tofu kind are usually in the refrigerator case  wherever the tofu is. Regular Shirataki noodles are often shelf-stable and so might be in same aisle as the other Asian noodles. Brands you might see include Miracle Noodle, Nasoya, and House Foods. 

Cost: $1.50 per 4-ounce serving (this is usually half a package)

Total Carbohydrates: 3 grams per 4-ounce serving


  • These are noodles, and so they are very noodle-like: the texture is chewy and great, and they are bland in a good way. Everybody in my family loves them and feels like they’re just like regular pasta.

  • They’re very high in fiber.

  • They’re precooked and easy to prepare.

  • They come in different styles (spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair) and you can use them in absolutely any preparation. 

But. . .

  • They might seem strange, if you’ve never used them before: the packaging has kind of an aquarium vibe, and the noodles might smell a bit weird or fishy when you dump them into a colander (the smell goes away after you rinse them). 

  • Thanks to their high fiber content, they can upset your stomach.

  • They might need to be refrigerated. 

  • I personally find it unsettling that an actual food item has so few calories (5 per serving), but given that this is a naturally occurring phenomenon, I think I need to get over myself about it.

Best Uses

These are so versatile, you can really use them in any pasta dish. Maybe because they are Asian in origin, I seem to like to use them in more Asian-style dishes like stir fries, ramen, and pad Thai. 

Try our Stir-Fried Veggie Noodles

Zucchini Noodles

Also known as zoodles, these are simply long strands that have been spiralized from whole squash. You can buy them fresh or frozen at many supermarkets, or you can make them yourself. You will need simple pencil-sharpener type spiralizer like the SpiraLife Vegetable Spiralizer ($13.99). (You can also simple shave zucchini down with a vegetable peeler for wider ribbons.) 

Cost: $1 to $2 per 6-ounce serving

Total Carbohydrates: 4 grams per 6-ounce serving


  • Zucchini noodles are surprisingly delicious, especially if you make them fresh yourself. The strands are long and convincingly spaghetti-like, and they’re nice and firm under your teeth.

  • They’re a whole food, which means they’ve been minimally processed and have no additives.

  • Zucchini noodles have all the nutrients of zucchini, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.


  • They are not chewy like conventional pasta.

  • The frank green zucchini-ness of them might be off-putting to people who don’t like—or think they don’t like—zucchini. 

Best Uses

Zucchini noodles are quite adaptable and take well to any pasta sauce, including pesto and tomato sauce. Because they have very little protein, I especially like to pair them with a meat sauce.

Here’s our recipe for Zucchini Noodles with Easy Meat Sauce

Hearts of Palm Noodles

These noodles are made from the tender cores of palm trees that have been cut into pasta-like strands. You may be familiar with hearts of palms as a jarred or canned ingredient: these are usually cylinders that are cut crosswise into slices to add to salads. To make noodles, the palm hearts are cut along the grain (picture string cheese) into shreds. They’re sold in cans or shelf-stable bags. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s sell their own brand; other brands include Palmini.

Cost: around $1.50 per 3-ounce serving

Total Carbohydrates: 4 grams per 3-ounce (1/2-cup) serving


  • They’re ready to eat and easy to use.

  • Because they’re treated with both salt and acid, hearts of palm noodles are well-seasoned from the get-go.

  • The flavor is evocative of artichoke hearts in a way that many people will like. 

  • They come in different styles, such as linguine, spaghetti, and angel hair.

  • The hearts of palm may be grown sustainably.

But. . . 

  • They’re pleasantly crunchy out of the package, or softer if you cook them briefly, but they don’t offer any of the chew of conventional pasta.

  • The flavor is evocative of artichoke hearts in a way that some people might not like.

  • The hearts of palm may not be grown sustainably.

Best Uses

I like to lean into their tangy Mediterranean artichoke-olive vibe and serve them as the basis for Greek-style pastas and pasta salads—especially since you don’t need to cook them. You can, however, sub them into any pasta recipe you like.

Try our Hearty Pasta Salad

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash that, when cut open and cooked, can be scraped up into a pile of spaghetti-like strands. Like other winter squash, it is most readily available in the fall and winter.

Cost: $2 per serving (1/2 squash)

Total Carbohydrates: 7 grams per 1-cup serving of strands (from 1/2 a squash)


  • Spaghetti squash is sweet and mild. Even the people in my family who claim not to like winter squash like it fine. 

  • It’s quite noodle-like when you scrape it out of its skin, and I actually think this is a lot of fun—the way the cooked flesh turns into a heap of strands when you scrape it with a fork.

  • It is a whole food, which means it hasn’t been processed at all and contains no additives.

  • Spaghetti squash, like all winter squash, contains fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.


  • It’s a little fussy to prepare and it takes a while to cook.

  • It’s not chewy like conventional pasta.

  • If people in your house fear vegetables, they might not be excited to get served an intimidating squash half. (In this case, you can scrape it out yourself and serve it like regular pasta.)

Best Uses

Spaghetti squash is low in calories and protein, so I like cooking it with hearty or rich sauces to make a filling main dish. After you prebake the squash, you can fill the wells with sauce and finish baking it this way to make sure that all the flavors really soak into the squash while it cooks. Plus, then you get to call them “boats”!

Try our Three-Cheese Spaghetti Squash Boats

Check out some of our other pastas recipes: 

What do you think?

About the authors

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop... Read the full bio »