When it comes to your favorite comfort foods—winter or otherwise—pasta is probably at the top of the list. But those craving-satisfying noodles have developed quite a bad rap over the past decade or so: Whether you’re gluten-free or carb-conscious, pasta has likely made it onto your do-not-eat list, which is where pasta alternatives come in.
For the record, there’s good reason to ditch the classic noodles: the traditional white linguines of the world are stripped of key nutrients (like fiber and protein) and loaded with blood sugar-spiking carbs that cause cravings later and can even lead to weight gain, says nutritionist Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS.
The good news is, the more white pasta has been vilified, the more food manufacturers and consumers have upped their alternative noodle game.
“With the rise of gluten-free, keto, and paleo diets, there’s been a ton of innovation in the pasta space,” notes Scheller. A stroll down the grocery aisle reveals an array of options from chickpea shells to red lentil spaghetti (not to mention our cauliflower shell bolognese).
Here’s our guide to easy, guilt-free ways to satisfy that pasta craving with pasta alternatives tailored to your preferences.
...You’re looking for extra protein:
Try one of the new pulse-based pastas you’ve been seeing everywhere. Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family—think beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas. “They’re higher in fiber and protein than regular pasta, which means they keep you full for longer,” says Scheller.
Most pulse pastas, such as chickpea pasta, have around 8 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein—compare that with traditional pasta, which has just 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. There’s even an edamame-based pasta that packs a whopping 25 grams of protein.
Another bonus: Pulse pastas are grain and gluten-free since they’re made from legumes. Scheller suggests choosing products that list lentils, chickpeas, beans, or peas as the first ingredient.
If you’re looking for a gluten-free pasta, you could pick up one of the pulse pastas, or go with the OG: brown rice pasta. Scheller is a fan: “The texture of brown rice pasta is probably the closest to a traditional pasta, and it has a mild flavor that goes with anything,” she says. (We use it in our popular sausage baked penne and chicken cacciatore meals.)
Another great gluten-free pasta alternative is quinoa pasta, which has good stores of protein and fiber. Just make sure the main ingredient is quinoa. “Some boxes have fillers like corn or rice flour, which reduce the nutritional benefits,” notes Scheller.
...You’re trying to eat more vegetables:
You’re probably wondering which is the healthiest pasta. At the end of the day, the healthiest and most nutrient-dense alternative to traditional pasta is spiralized veggies like zucchini, squash, and sweet potato, says Scheller. “Spaghetti squash is one of my favorite substitutes for pasta,” she notes. “When you roast it and use a fork to scrape out the inside, it comes out just like pasta.”
If you’re not a fan of veggie noodles, try a veggie-based spaghetti like cauliflower pasta, which is what we use in our popular cauliflower shell bolognese. Just be wary of pastas that claim to be filled with vegetables but are actually made from wheat and tinted with syrups or veggie powders. “Look at the label and make sure a vegetable is one of the first ingredients on the list,” says Scheller.
...You prefer traditional pasta:
If alternative pastas aren’t your thing, go for classic whole-wheat pasta, which packs twice the fiber of regular pasta (7 grams versus 3 grams). Plus, it’s loaded with minerals like magnesium, iron, and zinc, which white pasta doesn’t have.
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