What Is Low-Carb Pasta — and Which One Is Right for You?

With so many to choose from, the alternative pasta aisle can be overwhelming. Here's a breakdown of four versatile low-carb pastas to try.

October 21, 2020
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Photo by: Malkovstock/Getty Images

Malkovstock/Getty Images

When did choosing a pasta get so complicated? You used to have a choice between just be the basics — you know, white and whole-wheat. And now you get to choose from every type of pasta under the sun.

What exactly is low-carb pasta, and why was it created in the first place? "Although there is no set qualifying number of carbs to call a pasta low carb, these pastas usually contain significantly fewer carbohydrates than their alternatives — making them a great choice for anyone wishing to lower her overall carbohydrate intake," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. "This includes people with diabetes or people following a low-carb diet plan like a keto diet."

Ultimately, these pastas allow people who need or want to limit their carbohydrate intake to still enjoy pasta. They’re also great option for people following a gluten-free diet, as the majority of low-carb pastas are gluten free.

To put things in perspective, 2 ounces of dry spaghetti contains 43 grams of carbs, per the USDA Database. "Low-carb pasta has been popular for decades, since the Atkins diet days, but have seen an increasing rise in popularity in recent years with diets like Paleo and keto becoming more mainstream," says Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD, a dietitian in Phoenix, AZ.

How to Shop for Low-Carb Pasta

Wondering what to buy? "It depends on the taste, texture and carb content you desire," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. "There is no official definition of net carbs, but many low-carb enthusiasts look for net carbs as the deciding factor for which food to choose by subtracting the fiber grams from total carbohydrates to determine the digestible carbs. A veggie-based choice like heart-of-palm pasta will have a much lower carb content than a bean-based pasta."

What’s more, there’s no official definition of low carb. "What defines low carb depends on the needs of a person's dietary restrictions," adds Shallal. "For example, ‘low carb’ might mean less than 5 grams of net carbs to someone on keto, while it might mean less than 30 grams to someone else."

Low-Carb Pastas to Try

"Not all low-carb pasta is created equally," says Palinski-Wade. "Ideally, choose a pasta with a short ingredient list made of whole foods or whole grains that provides a good source of fiber or protein to help you feel satisfied after eating. I recommend that the first ingredient be a whole food such as chickpea or black bean."

Now, consider adding these pastas to your grocery cart.

Lentil Pasta

Pasta made from pulses? Yes, please. On grocery shelves, you’ll find pasta made from red, yellow, and green lentils. Most lentil pastas range from 180 to 210 calories, with 34 to 35 grams carbs per 2-ounce serving.

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Brown Rice Pasta

This pasta is whole-grain based, but provides less protein than you get in a pulses-based pasta. Most brown-rice pastas range from 200 to 210 calories, with 43 to 44 grams carbs per 2-ounce serving.

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Chickpea Pasta

“I love chickpea pasta,” says Shallal. “To me, the texture is much more preferable to other healthier pastas, like whole grain or whole wheat. Chickpea pasta helps me get in more beans without dealing with texture issues.” Per 2 ounces, most chickpea pastas will land you at 190 to 230 calories and 32 to 37 grams carbohydrates.

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Hearts of Palm Pasta

This pasta is made from veggies — and is extremely low calorie and low carb. Per 2 ounces, you get 10 to 25 calories and 1 to 3 grams carbs.

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Black Bean Pasta

Here’s another pulses-based pasta. Most black-bean pastas land at 180 to 200 calories, with 19 to 35 grams carbs. “The high amount of fiber in this pasta means these carbs will be absorbed slowly with minimal blood glucose spikes,” says Palinski-Wade.

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Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist in the New York City area and owner of the Plant-Based Eats Etsy store, where she sells healthy meal plans and printables. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, ReadersDigest.com, NBCNews.com, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List, where she shares easy, healthy recipes. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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