We’ve all heard about the drawbacks of traditional wheat pasta. It’s gluten- and carb-intensive, spikes your blood sugar and packs on the (empty) calories. So why can’t we quit it? Because as nutritionally lacking as pasta is, it’s also intensely pleasurable. Few foods provide as much comfort as a warm bowl of noodles, and as a canvas for flavorful sauces, pasta is incomparable. It’s versatile and quick to prepare, and choosing a variety of pasta shapes and textures is also loads of fun. So don’t relinquish pasta entirely—get smart about it. These healthy, gluten-free pasta alternatives are a great way to enjoy pasta while using your “noodle.”
Brown Rice Pasta
Want to fool your Italian friends? Brown rice pasta is close in texture to conventional pasta, making it an excellent choice for traditional pasta recipes. But it’s lower on the glycemic index so it won’t spike your blood sugar quite as dramatically. Plus, you’ll be getting a serving of whole grain, which delivers dietary fiber, B vitamins and iron.
Buckwheat Sweet Potato Noodles
Buckwheat is a fruit seed (not a type of wheat!) that’s naturally gluten-free and beneficial in numerous ways, including keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in check. Sweet potatoes are rich in essential nutrients including vitamins A, C and E and potassium. Combined into noodles, the two make a tasty dynamic duo with a dense, weighty texture that’s great for Asian recipes.
Chickpeas are beloved in the Middle East and India, and they turn into a nutty treat in Italian pasta form. Packed with protein and fiber and low on the glycemic index, antioxidant-rich chickpeas have been linked to improved digestion and healthier cholesterol and blood sugar profiles. Plus, they’re a delicious way to up your iron, manganese and folate intake. Best of all: chickpea pasta keeps its textual integrity when boiled—serve al dente, just like regular pasta.
Pasta that doesn’t have to be cooked? Hold up! Noodles made from seaweed have a crunchy consistency when served raw, but if you want a soft, traditional pasta texture, just marinate them in some sauce. You’ll get a low-calorie, low-carb, mineral-rich dose of iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium and folic acid from the sea vegetables used to make the pasta.
Want some pure vegetable noodles without having to use your spiralizer? Konjac noodles, popular throughout Asia, are crafted from the konjac yam and are loaded with heart- and gut-healthy soluble fiber and vitamins. Don’t be daunted by the malodorous liquid they typically come packaged in; when drained and cooked, these gelatinous, chewy, translucent noodles take on the flavor of your sauce.
Mung Bean Pasta
High in fiber, low in carbohydrates, and chock-full of folate, manganese and magnesium, mung beans are nutritious little legumes popular in India and Asia. Research has linked mung bean consumption to lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Neutral in flavor and with a texture to rival the real stuff, mung bean pasta is a low-glycemic, high-protein choice.