Sad but true: Being on the keto diet means that enjoying a massive bowl of your average pasta is kinda out of the question. And, of course, if you’re on keto, you probably fantasize about diving into a bowl of noodles all the damn time.
Luckily, being on keto doesn’t have to mean you can never, ever have pasta again—but you may have to get a little creative about it. Here’s what you need to know about having pasta on keto, plus how to cheat the system a little.
First off, can I have pasta on keto—and if so, how often and how much?
Since keto restricts your daily carb intake to 20 grams a day, you can ~technically~ have a little regular pasta on the diet. But that’s pretty tough, because “that may be all you can eat carb-wise for the day,” explains Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy.
And if you do go the route of spending your carb count on regular pasta, you can’t have a very substantial portion of the stuff: A cup of standard dried spaghetti noodles that are cooked has about 43 grams of carbs, so we’re talking about you savoring less than half a cup of noodles. And that’s just sad.
Also, it’s not a stellar way to get your carbs for the day. “I wouldn’t advise spending all of your carbs on a food that does not have the nutrition give-back that you should look for in your carbs,” Keatley notes.
Just a heads up: You can get a little more keto bang for your buck with standard fresh pasta, since it’s made with egg, Keatley says. But, again, we’re talking about getting 14.2 grams of carbs for a 2-ounce serving, so you’re not exactly having a ton of noodles.
All of that said, plenty of people have gotten creative with pasta on the keto diet. While it might be more “pasta” (yes, in quotes) than PASTA, you can still get your fix. “There are alternative types of pasta that can be enjoyed on the keto diet,” says Beth Warren, RD, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl.
Fine, TELL ME: What kind of pasta can I have on keto?
You know, like in slightly larger, more enjoyable amounts? Again, you can have your standard pasta on keto, but that likely means you’ll be gnawing on a steak for the rest of the day to make up for all those carbs you got from munching on a few noodles.
That’s why Warren recommends looking for non-starchy vegetable pasta options, like spiralized cucumber, eggplant, celeriac, kohlrabi, zucchini, or yellow squash for a spaghetti-like dish, or using a mandolin for a more lasagna type of noodle.
“Spaghetti squash is a lower carb option that can be used to make a spaghetti or lasagna type of dish,” she says. “Shirataki or kelp noodles have even less carbs and can be enjoyed more freely.”
Shirataki noodles only have one gram of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) per one 3.5 ounce serving, Warren points out, so you can see how diving into a bowl of those is way more preferable when you’re on keto than having a measly portion of regular noodles.
Sure, you can get a spiralizer and make your own zoodles. (If that’s your thing, more power to you). But you can also just buy keto pastas, which is way easier. And, TBH, don’t you have enough to going on already without adding noodle-making to your to-do list? (Just something to mull over.)
Instead, toss one of these options in your shopping cart next time you’re craving a keto-friendly pasta night.
1. Shirataki noodles
These noodles, made from the fibrous part of the konjac yam, are high in fiber and low in calories and carbs. That means you can eat an entire pouch without fear of bringing your body out of ketosis, says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, one half of the Nutrition Twins.
“Clients who follow the keto diet tell us that if they’re craving the texture of pasta, these noodles really help to hit the spot, even though they’re a bit more slippery than traditional pasta,” says Shames.
You’ll just need to rinse shirataki noodles well before adding them to meals, says Shames—they have a slight fishy odor, which rinsing reduces. You can serve them with any keto-friendly sauce. “I love basil pesto with pine nuts for crunch, or a Thai peanut sauce with fresh basil, or Alfredo sauce for a hearty dish,” says Kristen Mancinelli, RD. But the best part: You can buy them pretty much anywhere now.
2. Black bean pasta
Many alternative pasta options—like lentil or rice pasta—still have too many carbs for people on the ketogenic diet, says Mancinelli. But two-ingredient black bean pasta, made from beans and water, is an exception.
“Black beans do have carbs, but they’re also high in fiber so the net carbs are low. The secret here is to keep the portion very small, and the good news is that this is so close to the real deal that just a few bites feels like a pasta splurge,” says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, the other half of the Nutrition Twins. She suggests adding this pasta to meat dishes and curries.
3. Palmini pasta
Made from hearts of palm, each serving of Palmini pasta has around 20 calories and four grams of carbs, says Shames. “If you can stick to a serving size, it is an ideal, satisfyingoption, especially because it does feel like comfort food at a time when people on the keto diet are craving something more than just protein and fat,” says Shames.
Add these zucchini-based “noodles” to a stir fry or top them with a low-carb sauce, suggests Wetzel. Just be careful about how many you zoodles you have, cautions Mancinelli.
One large zucchini has about seven grams of carbs, she says. “[That’s] a lot for someone on a ketogenic diet trying to stay below 20 grams per day, but it’s doable if you are careful on carb intake elsewhere,” Mancinelli says.
And while you can absolutely bust out your own spiralizer, you can also save yourself a ton of time by picking up a package of premade zoodles from Trader Joe’s, or other supermarkets, recommends Wetzel.
5. Kelp pasta
Made from seaweed, kelp noodles are low fat and low calorie, says Samuels. They’re also rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin K, and high in fiber, she says. “I prefer to use kelp noodles for some texture in cold dishes,” says Mancinelli. Try them in a Vietnamese salad with sliced beef and fresh herbs, she suggests.
The noodles can be found in Asian groceries and health food stories, says Samuels. Mancinelli recommends kelp noodles from the Sea Tangle Noodle Company (you can buy them on Amazon).
6. Spaghetti squash
Spaghetti squash is a great way to eat more veggies, while getting the taste and texture of spaghetti, says Emily Wetzel, RD, LDN, of Dietitians on Demand.
This starchy vegetable is low in in calories, sodium, and fat, but high in good-for-you nutrients. “It is also lower in carbohydrates than regular pasta with about seven grams in a one-cup serving,” says Lisa Samuels, RD, founder of The Happie House.
It’s also super-easy to make: Slice a spaghetti squash in half, drizzle with olive oil, then either roast in the oven or nuke in the microwave, says Samuels. Shred the cooked vegetable with a fork—presto, “spaghetti” noodles. “Saute it together with garlic, tomato sauce, fresh herbs, and sausage or ground beef for a well-rounded meal,” suggests Samuels.
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