Image courtesy Food Faith Fitness
Pasta is as quick-cooking, convenient, and adaptable as it gets. No matter the season or cuisine, there’s a noodle-based recipe to suit. Unfortunately, there’s a catch: Traditional pasta is problematic for blood sugar.
The most common noodle options are mainly made with refined flour, which is rich in carbs and low in nutrients, thanks to a process that removes the fibrous outer coating (also known as the germ and bran) from wheat. Without that slow-digesting fiber, the body absorbs the carbohydrates faster and, as a result, is more likely to experience glucose spikes. Even certain whole-grain noodles, which do contain extra nutrients, can spike blood sugar – especially when eaten unaccompanied by foods containing protein, fat, and fiber.
Fortunately, quite a few ingenious pasta alternatives ditch refined and processed carbs without sacrificing flavor or texture. Whether you make them yourself or buy them, it’s no longer difficult to find options that satisfy your cravings without the blood sugar roller coaster. Use the tips and recipe inspiration below to whip up easy, quick-cooking meals that sate your appetite for noodles.
Build a Better Pasta Dish
Choosing the right noodle is the first step to making blood sugar-friendly pasta meals, but it’s hardly the only thing you can do. Try these other easy and creative ideas for delicious, healthy dishes.
Swap traditional noodles for nutritious alternatives. From store-bought options like chickpea and lentil noodles that taste almost identical to white flour pasta to zucchini noodles that you can spiralize at home, it’s easy to find a pasta swap that won’t spike blood sugar.
Load up on veggies. When in doubt, double down on fiber-rich vegetables. Some evidence suggests that eating non-starchy options like spinach and broccoli before carbs slows down their absorption, leading to a more balanced blood sugar response. Veggies like zucchini and carrots can even complement and imitate the taste and texture of noodles if you cut them into pasta shapes. Other low-carb, micronutrient-rich options include leafy greens, bell peppers, cauliflower, and mushrooms.
Include enough high-quality protein. Eating carbs alongside a balance of fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help minimize glucose spikes. Research has shown that high-protein diets may decrease postprandial glucose responses by as much as 40%. Try mixing in beans or sustainably-raised animal protein, blending silken tofu into a cream sauce, or sprinkling toasted nuts on top.
Skip sugary sauces. Many surprising store-bought foods—including pasta sauce—contain added sugar.While pesto isn’t typically made with sugar, tomato sauce can contain high amounts—one brand with added sugars contains a total of 11 grams per ½-cup serving. As an alternative, we like Trader Joe’s Spicy Chunky Tomato and Pepper Sauce, which has less than half that (5 grams) and no added sugars. Rao’s brand also doesn’t add sugar.
You can also DIY an easy marinara with just four ingredients you likely have in the pantry: canned or fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and salt.
Add the right toppings. A sprinkle of cheese isn’t likely to cause glucose spikes, but some research shows that eating dairy products may boost insulin production, possibly because of the proteins in milk. If you avoid dairy, nutritional yeast is a good alternative. It lends a cheesy flavor, plus about two grams of fiber and five grams of protein per two tablespoons.
Make pasta your side dish. Shrink your portion size and serve noodles alongside a nutrient-dense entree such as grilled salmon, chicken and peppers, beef and broccoli, or tempeh and veggie stir-fry.
Low-Carb Pasta and Noodle Recipes
Now that you know more about making a pasta dish healthier, here are some recipes to help you get started.
Garlic Roasted Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles from Cook Eat Paleo
Zucchini noodles are an excellent alternative to traditional noodles in many recipes. If you can’t find ready-made zoodles at the store, this recipe breaks down how to DIY them with or without a spiralizer. Zesty garlic shrimp will keep your blood sugar stable and your stomach satisfied.
Smoked Salmon Zucchini Noodle Salad from Cotter Crunch
This no-cook dish tops zoodles with smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes, onion, capers, and a smoky-spicy cajun sauce. All you have to do is chop, stir together the sauce, and combine.
Stir-Fried Enoki Mushrooms from A Couple Cooks
In this recipe, long, thin, umami-packed enoki mushrooms become crispy in some parts and soft and tender in others—just like all the best noodles. Top it with an avocado oil-fried egg, or cook the mushrooms with grass-fed beef for a complete meal.
Zucchini Noodles with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce from Food Faith Fitness
Packed with veggies, this dish is excellent for busy weeknights. Just warm up the zoodles, combine the sauce ingredients in a blender, and toss it together. For a bit more protein, serve with a side of roasted chicken, tofu, or seafood.
Vegetable Stir-Fry with Mung Bean Noodles from Healthy Nibbles and Bits
One study suggests that mung beans produce a low glucose response and may improve blood sugar levels overall. Even better: These noodles are ready to eat in about half the time it takes to cook white noodles.
Pad Thai Noodle Omelette from I Heart Umami
Pad Thai is a delivery favorite, but traditional rice noodles cause a blood sugar spike in many people. This recipe swaps in spaghetti squash and adds an assortment of other nutrient-rich vegetables like carrots, bean sprouts, and snow peas. Shrimp, eggs, and cashews add protein.
Broccoli Rabe Sausage Pasta from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen
This hearty dish uses yellow summer squash to add a pop of color and switch up the usual zucchini noodles. Choose sausage that doesn’t have added sugars, preservatives, or sodium. If you can’t track down broccoli rabe, use regular broccoli. The results will be just as tasty.
Palmini Pasta Shrimp Stir-Fry from Low Carb Africa
Palmini is one of the brands of hearts of palm noodles. Unlike other veggie-based pasta alternatives, hearts of palm maintains an al dente texture similar to traditional pasta. Plus, its mild vegetal flavor is hardly noticeable with the proper sauce and mix-ins, such as the juicy shrimp, wilted spinach, and spicy sauce.
Beet Noodles with Yogurt and Dill from Feasting At Home
You may be hard-pressed to find beet noodles at the store, but they’re easy to make whether or not you have a spiralizer. Yogurt sauce tames the earthiness of the beets, which provide plenty of fiber to help balance blood sugar levels.
Cauliflower Gnocchi with Crispy Kale and Pine Nuts from E.A. Stewart
Frozen cauliflower gnocchi makes a quick, low-carb meal—and you don’t even have to boil water. Here, it’s roasted with onion and kale until crispy and topped with pine nuts for crunch. Add your choice of protein.
Instant Pot Pumpkin Black Bean Chili Mac from Flavor the Moments
This savory mac and cheese uses chickpea noodles to cut down the carbs and boost the protein. Combining canned pumpkin puree and black beans gives the dish the creamy texture you crave and a dose of fiber and protein. Note that chickpeas and black beans can spike blood sugar in some people, so try a small serving first and see how you respond.
Stir-Fried Kelp Noodles with Ground Beef Broccoli from Nom Nom Paleo
Kelp noodles taste and feel almost identical to rice noodles, but they’re made entirely from seaweed. Just rinse, drain, and cook. Using packaged broccoli slaw and spinach means this entire Asian-inspired dish is ready in less than 30 minutes.
Kelp Noodle and Cabbage Salad with Seared Tempeh from The Full Helping
In addition to being quick to cook, kelp noodles are low in carbs, have a modest amount of fiber, and contain 15% of your daily calcium. This recipe celebrates their subtle, salty, sea flavor with a bright, umami-packed miso and citrus dressing.
Eggplant Cannelloni from Every Last Bite
Here, thinly sliced eggplant serves as lasagna noodles, and the typical ricotta and mozzarella filling is replaced by an uncanny vegan alternative made from soaked cashews. Feel free to use a store-bought tomato sauce to speed up the cooking process, but make sure it’s free of added sugars.
Cassava Pasta Mac and Cheese from Unbound Wellness
This dairy-free mac and cheese uses cassava pasta, a gluten-free noodle option with a softer consistency than other alternatives, so don’t overcook it. Roasted butternut squash and cauliflower blended with nutritional yeast create a delightfully creamy, cheesy-tasting sauce.
Spaghetti Squash Bolognese from Paleo Running Momma
When properly cooked, the similarities between spaghetti squash and delicate angel hair pasta are almost uncanny. This recipe pairs the gourd with a rich bolognese that uses a bit of coconut milk to give the sauce a rich, creamy texture.
Zucchini Pasta with Green Harissa Sauce from Dr. Hyman
This zucchini pasta gets extra green color from a sauce jam-packed with flavorful herbs like mint, cilantro, and parsley. Pair with a simple grilled protein like chicken or shrimp for a meal that doesn’t leave you hungry for more.
Pasta Primavera with Veggie Noodles from Paleo Hacks
This dish uses a mix of shredded carrots and spiralized zucchini in place of pasta for a mix of texture. Spinach, asparagus, lemon juice, and chopped basil create a sweet but simple sauce.