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8 Low-Carb & Grain-Free Substitutes for Pasta

8 Low-Carb & Grain-Free Substitutes for Pasta

Low Carb Made Eaasy

Whether you’re following a low-carb keto diet, are looking for gluten-free recipes, want to get more fiber-filled veggies in your diet, or you simply want to switch things up for pasta dishes, there are lots of grain-free pasta alternatives you can use. One of the beauties of pasta dishes is that it’s easy to replicate a saucy, flavorful dish without using actual pasta. Ingredients like veggies or egg-based noodles can replicate the shape and texture of pasta, without so many carbs.

Here are some of our favorite low-carb, grain-free substitutes for pasta, which you might find in our menu of 34+ dietitian-designed meals and 45+ add-on options.

1. Zucchini

Zucchini is a popular noodle substitute because its texture makes it easy to spiral out into spaghetti-like shapes. This summer squash, also called a courgette, consists of about 95% water and has just about 25 calories in each small zucchini. It’s also virtually fat-free and cholesterol-free. Zucchinis provide a lot of nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, and vitamin B6. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which can help fight free radicals and delay some types of cell damage.

In addition to turning zucchini into noodle shapes using a spiralizer, you can also chop up zucchini and swap it for other pasta shapes for a low-carb option. Just cut the zucchini into whatever shape you’re after, like batons for ziti or thin rounds for orecchiette. Another bonus of swapping zucchini for pasta? Zoodles only take about 1 minute to boil, compared to pasta, which could take around 10 minutes. You can also microwave, sauté, or bake zoodles, or just eat them raw with some warm sauce on top.

2. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is another versatile, low-carb option when you want grain-free pasta. Like zucchini, you can prepare it in different ways for whatever “pasta” dish you’re using it in. For example, you can use a box grater or food processor to grate chunks of cauliflower into “rice”. You can use cauliflower rice as a substitute for orzo pasta dishes since it has a similar texture. It’s also a great substitute for any dish that calls for couscous, which is often considered pasta.

You can also cut a head of cauliflower into smaller florets and use those as a substitute for more substantial pasta shapes, like farfalle or rotini. These days, cauliflower has transformed into one of the main ingredients in ready-made pasta, as well. It’s a great grain-free option since it only has around 25 calories in a cup but is packed with vitamin C and other nutrients, like Vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, and potassium. It also has fiber, which promotes satiety and can improve gut health.

3. Spaghetti Squash

It’s right there in the name. Spaghetti squash is an ideal pasta substitute because you can scrape the inside with a fork to create vegetable-based, spaghetti-like noodles. If you’re cooking it yourself, you can microwave the squash for a couple of minutes to soften the skin. Then, cut the ends off and slice the squash in half length-wise. After you scoop out the seeds and pulp from the middle, you can roast the squash, then shred it into non-pasta noodles.

Post-oven, there's no need to cook the squash noodles further. You can use them with your favorite sauce or in other pasta preparations. You can also boil a whole spaghetti squash in a water-filled pot to cook it. Like the other veggies mentioned here, spaghetti squash has filling fiber, plus nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, and manganese. It’s also about 92% water and has around 40 calories in a 1-cup serving.

4. Egg Noodles

There are some low-carb egg noodle versions that are incredibly similar to the typical egg noodle recipes. Since eggs have minuscule amounts of carbs, they’re a great noodle base that can be paired with other low-carb ingredients. Low-carb egg noodles are prepared similarly to flour-packed noodles and you can make them with a pasta machine or use traditional pasta-making methods.

To make them low-carb, egg noodles can use almond flour instead of regular flour. Other ingredients like butter and cream cheese can give them a rich flavor. You can then shape the noodles into whatever pasta shape you desire. Low-carb egg noodles can be a great option when you want more protein in your pasta, plus you get other nutrients like riboflavin and selenium. They only need a few minutes to cook in boiling water, too.

5. Cucumber

Like zucchini, cucumber can be spiralized into noodles or julienned into thin noodle-like strips. You can also slice it into long wide strips and use it as a vegetable substitution for lasagna noodle layers. Cucumbers can really fill you up for very few calories. At more than 95% water, cucumbers are also virtually fat-free and contain very few carbs. They also have a significant amount of vitamin K and contain vitamin C, potassium, and manganese.

In addition to using a cucumber as a noodle substitute, you can sub it for pasta in various shapes, and in dishes like cold pasta salad. Leave cucumber raw for a crunchy texture, or cook noodles in a pan for about 1 minute to heat through, then smother with your favorite sauce.

6. Broccoli

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, like cauliflower. It has a similar texture to cauliflower and can be prepared similarly as a pasta substitute, too. Like cauliflower, you can grate broccoli into a “rice” for orzo and couscous pasta substitutions, or create a texture similar to what you’d find in our Beef Casserole with Parmesan Broccoli “Grits” & Green Beans. You can boil broccoli for a softer texture and use it in place of pasta shapes like rotini or farfalle. Use a food processor or even a blender to transform broccoli into a more rice-like texture.

In addition to being a low-carb substitute for flour-based pasta, broccoli is full of vitamins and minerals. It’s a great source of vitamins C and K, and it also has vitamin A, vitamin B9, and potassium.

7. Eggplant

The long shape of an eggplant makes it another great substitution for lasagna noodles, just like cucumber and zucchini. Since eggplant is also a common ingredient in many of the tastiest plant-and meat-based lasagna recipes, you might not even miss the pasta if you use it as a substitute.

When you use eggplant as a lasagna noodle substitute, the other parts of the recipe and cooking preparation can pretty much stay the same. Simply slice eggplant lengthwise in around ¾-inch thick slices, then layer with all the other usual lasagna ingredients before you bake it. You can also cube and cook eggplant as a substitute for dishes with other pasta shapes. This low-calorie plant has just around 20 calories per cup and has fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K and C, plus antioxidants. Since it’s popular in lots of pasta dishes, it makes perfect sense to use it as a substitute if you want a dish that’s similarly flavored to what you’re used to.

8. Cabbage

You might recognize cabbage as one of the most commonly fermented foods in dishes like kimchi, but the shape and texture of cabbage also makes it a natural noodle substitute. As you slice cabbage, long noodle shapes appear, which makes this vegetable a nice option for pasta salads and dishes like lo mein. To create cabbage noodles, simply cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core. Then, slice the cabbage into whatever size strips you’d like. Y__ou can cook the noodles in the pan with a little bit of broth to soften them__, without the need to toss them in a pot full of boiling water. You can also use whole cabbage leaves to layer in your lasagna, too.

As a mostly water-based food, cabbage is low in calories and carbohydrates. It’s a good source of vitamins and minerals, like vitamins K and C, folate, manganese, vitamin B6, and calcium.

Subscribe to Factor for Low-Carb, Grain-Free Dishes

If you can turn a plant or low-carb ingredient into a pasta-like shape, you can use it in a pasta dish with your other favorite ingredients. There are so many delicious grain-free, low-carb options for pasta today, from cauliflower pasta to zoodles and eggplant lasagna. Keep in mind that veggies typically need a lot less time to cook, in some cases, just as little as 1 minute so you can heat up the ingredient without turning it to mush. Paired with your favorite sauce, spice, or accompaniment, you can have some nutritious and tasty “pasta” dishes that don’t contain lots of carbs or grains.

Want to make things easier? Let Factor do the work with recipes like our Grilled Chicken a la Vodka with Zucchini Noodles & Broccoli and our Creamy Poblano Chicken with Poblano Zoodles.
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