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5 healthy alternatives to regular pasta

A registered dietitian weighs in on lentil, chickpea, quinoa, hearts of palm and cauliflower pasta.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s hard to find anyone — regardless of diet of choice — who isn’t a pasta lover at heart. But, we all know that pasta has, rightfully so, gotten a bad reputation in recent years. As much as I promote being able to indulge consciously from time to time (I do love my Bolognese), pasta is a food that most of us need to cut back on, or take up a healthy notch or two.

Yet, with these healthier versions on the market today, you can indulge in a health-conscious way. Check out these top five healthy pasta alternatives:

1. Lentil pasta

The only ingredient in Tolerant Red Lentil Pasta is red lentils (other varieties are made with black beans, green lentils and chickpeas). Lentils, unlike pasta, are high in fiber (11 grams) and also contain plant-based protein (20 grams). The phytochemicals found in lentils protect against chronic disease including heart disease, and it's a good source of iron, which helps to keep energy levels up. Con? It is slightly more expensive than your go-to box of pasta. Pro? It’s gluten-free and organic too, plus it has a good flavor and less sticky consistency than other pasta alternatives.

Tolerant Red Lentil Pasta (6-Pack), $27, Amazon

2. Quinoa pasta

If lentils aren’t your thing you may want to give Ancient Harvest Black Bean Elbows a try. They’re made with black beans and quinoa so you get the benefits of the bean and the seed (yes, quinoa is actually a seed). Black beans are high in protein, soluble fiber and vitamins and minerals supporting healthy bones, helping to lower blood pressure and manage diabetes. This pasta contains more than 20 grams of protein and has 7 grams of fiber. It has a mild flavor overall, with a slight black bean infusion, and though It’s not organic, it makes a good addition to dishes like soup or stew.

Ancient Harvest Black Bean Elbows, $5, Jet

3. Chickpea pasta

If you’re tired of getting your chickpeas from hummus and looking for a pasta substitute, you will hit the jackpot with Banza Chickpea Pasta. This replacement is made with chickpeas and pea protein and contains 25 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber. This protein and fiber combo will help keep you full and the texture is sure to satisfy your pasta craving. The only con is that it does taste more like chickpeas than pasta so traditional pasta lovers be warned.

Banza Chickpea Pasta (3-Pack), $15, Amazon

4. Hearts of palm pasta

Palmini is a unique pasta substitute made with water, salt, sliced hearts of palm and fumaric acid. It is lower in protein (2 grams) and fiber (2 grams) than the above options, but it is also very low in calories. Hearts of palm are a good source of potassium which are known to help lower blood pressure and also vitamins B6, C and calcium and zinc. The downside? They can be quite bland, but will take on whatever flavor you dress them with. A super flavorful pesto is a great idea for ramping up the flavor.

Palmini Pasta (6-Pack), $24, Amazon

5. Cauliflower pasta

2018 may have been the year of the cauliflower so it's no surprise that it made its way into pasta. Cali’flour Penne is made from cauliflower and yellow lentils. The taste is fairly comparable to pasta and the cauliflower adds all of the veggies nutrient goodness (including vitamin C, potassium and folate) to the lentil benefits of fiber and plant protein. It is however lower in fiber (3 grams) than most of the above and more expensive.

Cali'flour Penne, $32, Amazon

Have you tried Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocci? They can barely keep it on their shelves, and one TODAY writer noted that the texture is "a pretty spot-on stand-in to the traditional soft dumpling." She added that if you're not a fan of the cauliflower flavor, once you add sauce, "the cauliflower taste fades to the background."

There are more options than ever for pasta lovers, which one of these is your favorite?

Keri Glassman is a registered dietitian, you can follow her @nutritiouslife. For mroe diet and fitness advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.