From chilled pesto zoodles to crunchy Asian chicken kelp noodle pasta salad.

By "Isadora Baum"
July 08, 2021
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Pasta gets a bad rap these days for being high in carbs, but summer barbecues just aren’t the same without a big bowl of pasta salad.

Whether you’re strict keto or just like some extra fiber and protein in your pasta, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your favorite summer staple. “For those who prefer a lower carb lifestyle, including keto enthusiasts and people with diabetes or prediabetes, you can try shirataki or kelp noodles,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

“Bean-based pasta, such as black bean or edamame pasta, have the highest protein and fiber content — enough that you don't need to add any additional protein to balance out the meal,” Harris-Pincus says. Although you can certainly still add in lean or good fat-based proteins, like salmon, grilled chicken, or turkey, if you want.

Using these carb conscious noodle picks and more, here are five lower carb pasta salad ideas for your next barbecue spread or quick summer lunch.

Pesto Pasta Salad With Zoodles

With less than one carb per ounce, zucchini noodles, or “zoodles,” are the perfect pasta substitute for keto and low carb dieters. Bonus: Zucchini is also hydrating and low calorie. “A pesto sauce pairs really well with zucchini noodles,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook.

Hultin recommends adding cherry tomatoes and a lean protein like grilled chicken, tofu, or canned salmon or tuna to round out the dish. You can buy your zoodles pre-cut, prep them yourself with a spiralizer, or make zucchini ribbons (pappardelle, if you will) with a potato peeler.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad With Shirataki Noodles

Another keto favorite, shirataki noodles are made with an extract of the konjac root, which is a type of yam. These noodles come in every shape (penne, fettuccine, macaroni, etc.) and are extremely low in carbs and calories, with less than one carb and anywhere from zero to 20 calories per serving.

“They are packaged in water and need to be rinsed and drained before eating,” notes Harris- Pincus. Don’t worry about the slightly oceanic smell when you open the bag — it will rinse off and the flavor of the pasta is actually quite mild. That’s why we recommend mixing shirataki noodles with savory sun-dried tomatoes, a tangy salad dressing, and a well-seasoned protein. The noodles will take on the flavor of the other ingredients and you’ll be in pasta heaven.

Bell Pepper Pasta Salad With Bean Pasta

“Many people can hardly tell the difference between a bean pasta and whole wheat pasta — and you'll get more protein and slightly fewer carbs in bean-based noodles,” says Hultin. Generally hearty and flavorful, pastas made from edamame beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and more are better for moderately low carb diets.

The popular chickpea-based Banza penne pasta, for example, has 27 net carbs, under 190 calories, and 13 grams of protein per two ounce serving. Bean-based noodles pair well with a mix of colorful bell peppers, cubed cheese, creamy avocado, and sliced steak or chicken if you want extra protein.

Asian Chicken Pasta Salad With Kelp Noodles

Made with seaweed, kelp noodles are gluten-free, low calorie, and low carb. Popular brands like Sea Tangle have just six calories and two net carbs per serving. “These noodles pair well with an Asian cuisine flavor profile (think: sesame oil or seeds, sriracha, and soy sauce) to complement the subtle taste of the pasta.” says Hultin. In addition to a homemade or store-bought Asian dressing, you can toss in grilled chicken or shrimp and veggies like cucumber, carrot, Napa cabbage, or red bell peppers.

Pro tip: Kelp noodles have a naturally crunchy texture that can be softened by marinating and massaging the noodles in a sprinkling of baking soda and lemon juice.

Pea and Lemon Pasta Salad With Butternut Squash Noodles

With less than three carbs per ounce, butternut squash noodles are a sweet and savory alternative to zoodles. The best way to prep them for pasta salad is to flash boil them for about a minute, transfer to an ice bath, and drain. Hultin recommends tossing earthy butternut squash noodles with sweet green peas, lemon dressing, and grilled chicken. Fresh herbs like mint, tarragon, or thyme are also great in this dish.