What Is the Best Non-Pasta Pasta?

Non-flour pastas are having a moment: You can now eat pasta made from brown rice, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas and more. But are they really healthier than the real deal? Here’s what nutrition experts have to say about which pasta alternatives are actually good for you.

Vegetable noodles are the best

Fresh vegetables used in the place of noodles are clearly the healthiest option. One popular way to make veggies like sweet potato, cucumber or zucchini look like noodles is to spiralize them, or use a machine to slice them into long, curly strands. You can then cook these so-called “zoodles,” if you wish, by boiling or sautéeing them. Other stringy veggies like spaghetti squash naturally have a similar pasta-like look.

“From a nutritional standpoint, it’s terrific,” says Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System. “It’s just a lot more work, and you will need equipment.” Another downside is that fresh vegetable pastas can’t be stored like regular pasta, and it goes bad more quickly. The biggest con of all: vegetables taste nothing like real noodles.

MORE: Should I Eat Whole Wheat Pasta?

Bean-based pastas have the most fiber

Dried pastas made from chickpeas, lentils or black beans have more protein and fiber than regular pasta. That’s because this type of pasta is made from beans. It can be made in different ways; sometimes the bean is ground into a flour and combined with thickening agents like tapioca or xanthan gum, and sometimes the bean powder is just combined with water.

One popular type of bean pasta, Banza, uses chickpeas in place of wheat. It has twice the protein and four times the fiber of regular pasta, with fewer carbs. It’s also gluten free—but it’s not always much lighter. A two-ounce serving of Banza is about 190 calories, while penne packs about 200.

Veggie pastas aren’t necessarily worthwhile

Don’t be fooled by pastas that say they contain vegetables in their ingredients, like green spinach pasta or red tomato pasta. Spinach pasta is just regular pasta made with a bit of spinach, often in powder or puree form. “It’s basically fun and games with pasta,” says Ayoob. “It has great eye appeal.” Though some companies claim their veggie pastas contain a full serving of vegetables, Ayoob says it’s no substitute for a real vegetable dish, since spinach pasta might not have all the nutrients you would otherwise expect from spinach.

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Quinoa pasta is a good gluten-free option

Veggie or legume-based pastas are often gluten free, but quinoa is an especially popular choice since it doesn’t get mushy when it’s cooked. It tends to be higher in protein than other gluten-free varieties, and it contains high amounts of fiber, and iron. Another plus: it cooks quickly.

Even regular pasta can be healthy

The healthfulness of any type of pasta, regular or alternative, depends largely on what you serve with it. “Pasta is a great vehicle for other food,” says Ayoob. Usually, that means ground beef or heavy, creamy sauces. “Alfredo is one of the highest calorie pastas you can eat,” says Ayoob. “It’s what I call ‘once a year’ pasta.” Instead, top yours with tomato-based sauces, vegetables or yesterday’s leftovers.

You can also eat whole-wheat pasta, which is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Try serving it as a side dish, rather than a main, to cut down on portion sizes. “Pasta, including refined-flour pasta, is not a new food—it’s been around long before the obesity crisis,” Ayoob says. “Pasta is not a matter of yes or no, it’s a matter of how much and how often.”

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Some nights you just really need a comforting, hearty bowl of pasta. We’re talking about that good sauce, fresh basil, and a hefty grating of Parmesan. But when you’re cutting back on carbs or watching your weight, those heavenly noodles can really add up.

A two-ounce serving of regular pasta is about 200 calories, with 42 grams of carbohydrates, seven grams of protein, and just two grams of fiber, says Ashlee Wright, R.D. Even whole-wheat pasta still comes in at around 180 calories, with 39 grams of carbohydrates, and (a more impressive) eight grams of protein and seven grams of fiber.

Luckily, there are tons of healthier pasta alternatives to choose from to satisfy your pasta cravings while saving you a boatload of calories—and we’re not just talking about zoodles. These dietitian-approved noodles are versatile, nutritious, and less calorie-dense than your average spaghetti, so you can treat yourself without a shred of guilt.

1. Shirataki Noodles

These Japanese, noodles, which translate to ‘white waterfall’, are pretty much calorie-less, so it’s no wonder they’re such a popular pasta swap. They’re made with an Asian Yam (a root) called konjac, or konnyaku, and water, explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

These noodles are thin, translucent, and gelatinous, and have a glossy, white appearance. A serving of regular shirataki noodles has zero calories and under a gram of carbs, Harris-Pincus says. (You can also find tofu shirataki noodles, made of konnyaku and tofu, which have about 10 calories, three grams of carbs, and two grams of fiber per serving.)

Shirataki noodles come in several varieties, so you can have fettuccine one night and spaghetti another. The best part? No prep necessary! Shirataki is pre-cooked, so you just have to drain the water out of the package, rinse, microwave briefly, and pat the noodles dry.

2. Edamame Noodles

Made from green soybeans, a serving of edamame noodles is about 210 calories. But for those calories you get 22 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fiber, says Jones. Yep, that’s the same amount of protein as a serving of chicken breast. And all that fiber is sure to keep you feeling full!

“Edamame noodles are a fabulous source of plant-based protein,” says Harris-Pincus. Because the noodles contain so much protein, you don’t even need to add extra to the meal. What’s more, they also supply a quarter of your daily potassium needs and a third of your daily iron needs.

You’ll prepare edamame noodles just like you would regular pasta. Jones recommends tossing them with a no-sugar added tomato sauce and a serving of vegetables for a quick weeknight meal. (Harris-Pincus likes hers with a garlicky pesto sauce.)

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

3. Chickpea Pasta

Chickpeas can do so much more than hummus. A serving of chickpea pasta is about 190 calories, with 32 grams of carbs, 14 grams of protein, and eight grams of fiber, says Jones. They’re also a good source of iron.

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The flavor and texture of chickpea pasta is similar to whole-wheat pasta. It’s available in a bunch of pasta shapes and cooks up just like normal pasta. The ingredient list is pretty slim, too, typically just chickpea flour, tapioca, pea protein, and xanthan gum (for binding purposes), says Wright. Jones likes to use shell or elbow-shaped chickpea pasta for homemade macaroni and cheese or summer pasta salads.

4. Black Bean Pasta

Black bean pasta is made from just black bean flour, and offers 14 grams of protein, a whopping 15 grams of fiber, and 35 grams of carbs per 200-calorie serving, says Wright. Like edamame noodles, black bean pasta is higher in calories—but those calories are more balanced with protein and fiber than plain old pasta. Plus, it provides about a quarter of your daily iron needs, says Wright.

Black bean pasta is perfect for a quick weeknight Mexican dish. “While the pasta is cooking, sauté garlic, onions, some frozen corn, and spinach in a sauce pan,” suggests Jones. Toss your veggies into the pasta and top with salsa and avocado.

5. Buckwheat Pasta

You’ll often hear buckwheat noodles referred to as Japanese soba noodles, says Jones. And despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain wheat—it’s a seed! (Many mainstream soba noodle brands do contain traces of wheat flour, though, so check your labels. Look for a brand that’s made from just buckwheat flour and water, suggests Jones.)

At 200 calories, with 43 grams of carbs, six grams of protein, and three grams of protein per serving, soba noodles are the closest to regular pasta calorie-wise, says Jones. But because buckwheat is naturally high in phosphorus (important for our bones) and zinc (important for our immune and nervous systems), it has a bit of a nutritional edge over the other stuff, says Jones.

Soba noodles work well in Asian-inspired dishes like stir-fries. “Add your favorite stir-fry sauce, vegetables like broccoli and peppers, and a protein like shrimp, chicken, or tofu,” says Jones.

Related: Shop a full selection of healthy kitchen ingredients.

10 Skinny Pasta Recipes under 500 Calories

Keeping pasta dishes low-cal isn’t always easy. Calorie counts can quickly mount when you factor in creamy sauces and cheeses. Even heart-healthy olive oil can up the calories significantly. With this in mind, we gathered together top-rated pasta recipes that marry great taste with low-cal preparations. Each of these top-rated recipes gets it done deliciously for under 500 calories.

10 Pasta Recipes under 500 Calories

1. Greek Chicken Pasta

Loads of good healthy stuff in this recipe, including lean chicken breast meat, marinated artichoke hearts, tomato, garlic, red onions, and olive oil. BONUS: It’s ready in 30 minutes.

Image zoom Photo by chibi chef

2. Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

This meatless pasta dish stars fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Fewer than 350 calories, it’s ready in 40 minutes.

Image zoom Photo by kKallberg

3. Penne with Chicken and Asparagus

A light chicken, veggie, and pasta dish that weighs in under 350 calories. “A light but super-tasty pasta dish with fresh asparagus,” says LAUREL B. “Cooked in broth with sauteed garlic and seasoned chicken.”

Image zoom Photo by CookinBug

4. Ditalini with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese

“This tastes awesome. What the hot oven does to the deep red San Marzano tomatoes is a wonder to behold,” says Chef John. “It produces a pasta sauce with some serious depth of flavor. And ditalini are a perfect medium for the rich sauce, smoky oregano, and creamy goat cheese.”

Image zoom Photo by Baking Nana

5. Light Lemon Pesto Pasta

“Light, yet full of flavor, this pesto is perfect tossed with hot spaghetti for a quick dinner,” says Baking Nana. “It is also excellent as a pizza sauce or smeared on hot French bread.”

Image zoom Photo by Baking Nana

6. Fra Diavolo Sauce With Pasta

Shrimp and scallops combine in a spicy tomato and garlic sauce served over linguine — all under 350 calories.

7. Zucchini Linguine

Shredded zucchini and minced garlic are sauteed in olive oil and tossed in a yogurt and Cheddar sauce. It’s ready in 30 minutes and weighs in under 300 calories.

Image zoom Photo by Kim’s Cooking Now

8. Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Angel Hair

Another simple, low-calorie pasta dish — it’s less than 300 calories! Cherry tomatoes are roasted with garlic and olive oil, and then combined with angel hair pasta, fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and freshly grated Parmesan.

Image zoom Photo by Christina

9. Blackened Shrimp Stroganoff

You’ll season shrimp with Cajun seasoning and saute them with shallots, mushrooms, and jarred roasted red peppers, finishing the dish with a simple sauce made with sour cream and chicken broth.

Image zoom Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

10. Greek Pasta with Tomatoes and White Beans

Ready in less than 30 minutes, this is the perfect healthy meal for busy weeknights. Simply simmer canned Italian-style diced tomatoes and cannellini beans, adding spinach at the very end before tossing with cooked pasta.

Image zoom Photo by hsloats

Explore our complete collection of Healthy Main Dish Pasta Recipes.

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Courgetti with pesto and balsamic tomatoes

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Low calorie lasagne

If you love a rich, creamy lasagne but are trying to watch your weight, this healthy, low calorie version will help those cravings. Using lean mince and packing it full of vegetables will help you feel full and fill you with vitamin B. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was the classic! Try out one of our best ever lasagne recipes here…

Gazpacho sauce spaghetti

Ready in just 15 minutes this simple pasta recipe is tossed in a smooth yet fiery gazpacho sauce.

Vegan mushroom bolognese

Check out this meat-free bolognese. This version of a family favourite uses mushrooms and plenty of veg, making it a low-fat healthy vegan friendly meal, everyone will love.

Caponata spaghetti

Fancy a big-on-flavour, easy-on-the-waistband pasta dinner ready in under an hour? Us too! Try our Sicilian veggie caponata spaghetti with aubergines, capers and olives.

Penne alla norma

Check out this easy gluten free tomato pasta with aubergine topped with fresh basil. This simple recipe is veggie friendly and low in calories.

Wholewheat spaghetti recipe with long-stemmed broccoli, chilli and lemon

Using wholewheat spaghetti gives this dish a nutty flavour, and it’s full of fibre and vitamin C, too. Coming in at under 500 calories, it will still keep you feeling full all evening, perfect for a vegetarian healthy meal.

Supergreen broccoli pasta bowl

Using only five ingredients, you’ll create a delicious bowl of fresh healthy pasta. It’s the perfect healthy meal – and if you make extra, will be a quick and easy lunch for the next day too.

Spicy prawn linguine

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Linguine recipe with tuna, lemon and dill

Our linguine pasta recipe topped with tuna, lemon and dill is a healthy crowd pleaser loved by children and adults alike. Try making it for a hearty midweek meal.

Healthy rigatoni with courgette, lemon and parmesan

Courgette takes centre stage in this low calorie pasta recipe that will go down well with vegetarians and meat eaters alike. It’ll boost your veg count, perfect for a healthy meal idea. Here are our favourite vegetarian pasta recipes…

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Pappardelle with lemon and sage mushrooms

For a quick and healthy midweek meal, try pappardelle with lemon and sage mushrooms. You only need six ingredients and a few minutes to rustle it up. A lighter healthy pasta idea. Try our other quick and easy pasta recipes here…

Prawn linguine with ‘nduja

Looking for healthy linguine recipe? Try our prawn linguine with ‘nduja – a spicy Italian sausage. The strong flavours come from the prawn and ‘nduja with the cherry tomatoes providing a sweet mellow base. It’s low in fat but full of flavour. Check out our other linguine recipes here…

Angel hair pasta with saffron, prosciutto and peas

This Italian inspired meal makes a great weeknight treat. It’s under 500 calories but full of creamy mascarpone and salty prosciutto. Try making this healthy meal idea for a dinner party dish, too.

Linguine with smoky paprika prawns

Our hot and spicy seafood pasta is super quick and easy to make. At just under 500 calories per serving, it’s also a great low cal midweek meal idea.

Spring veg and lemon broth

Our healthy broth is under 300 calories but doesn’t compromise on flavour. Packed with leafy greens, leeks and basil, it’s a healthy meal idea for a winter night.

Crab, tarragon and lemon linguine

Our recipe for crab, tarragon and lemon linguine is really simple to make, ready in 20 minutes, and comes in at under 500 calories – but is packed with delicious, fresh flavours too. A perfect midweek meal.

Low calorie pasta recipes

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