People sometimes think pasta is a high carb indulgence rather than a healthy meal option. However, it can definitely fit into a balanced diet.
This is especially true if you top off your pasta with nutritious sauces, spices, or veggies, which can provide a range of important vitamins and minerals to help round out your diet.
This article will take a closer look at 22 healthy pasta toppings you can enjoy, including a variety of veggies, meats, cheeses, sauces, and spices.
Here’s a variety of tasty vegetables you can load into your pasta for their flavor, fiber, and nutrients.
Broccoli is a nutritious and versatile vegetable that makes a great addition to any pasta dish.
In addition to packing a hearty dose of fiber in each serving, it’s also rich in micronutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and manganese (
Try boiling a few florets with your pasta and pair them with other healthy toppings, like olive oil, garlic, or Parmesan cheese.
Mushrooms can bring a creamy taste and texture to pasta dishes, along with a host of health benefits.
Though the exact nutritional content can vary depending on the specific type, most mushrooms contain a good amount of vitamin D, an important nutrient that isn’t found naturally in many food sources (
If you’re feeling creative, try experimenting with your favorite varieties of mushrooms — such as portobello, cremini, shiitake, oyster, or white mushrooms — and adding them to your pasta alongside other toppings, like goat cheese, spinach, or fresh lemon juice.
Green peas are often paired with pasta thanks to their fresh, sweet flavor and the pop of color they add to your plate.
Not only are peas a great source of plant-based protein, but they also provide many other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin K, and manganese (
They also work well with toppings like mint, garlic, cheese, basil, and red pepper flakes.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable known for its mild flavor and impressive nutrient profile.
In fact, raw spinach packs a good amount of fiber, vitamin C, iron, and calcium into each serving (
It’s also incredibly versatile — you can mix it into tomato sauce, add it to pasta salad, or use it to brighten up cream-based sauces.
Tomatoes are a classic topping that can give any pasta dish an instant upgrade.
In addition to being low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, they are also a great source of disease-fighting antioxidants, such as lycopene (
Try making your own homemade tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes or top off your favorite pasta with cherry tomatoes, cheese, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Loaded with fiber and a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, asparagus can be an excellent healthy pasta topping.
It’s especially high in vitamin K, a key nutrient necessary for blood clotting and bone health, as well as folate, vitamin C, and vitamin A (
Asparagus is frequently featured in creamy pasta recipes combined with other flavorful ingredients, like peas, tomatoes, cream cheese, and lemon zest.
Several types of cheese can make healthy pasta toppings, too.
Parmesan cheese is one of the most common classic pasta toppings, due to its rich flavor and versatility.
Like other types of cheese, it’s a good source of fat and protein and provides several key micronutrients, like calcium and phosphorus (
You can add it to almost any type of pasta. It works particularly well in creamy sauces or baked pasta dishes.
However, keep in mind that cheese is a calorie-dense ingredient. Therefore, if you’re trying to reach or maintain a moderate weight, you may want to limit your intake or make other adjustments to your diet as needed.
Feta is a type of brined curd cheese that is a key ingredient in Greek cuisine, as well as a tasty topping for many pasta dishes.
In addition to being lower in fat than many other types of cheese, feta is also rich in B vitamins like riboflavin and vitamin B12 (
It can also help dial up the flavor of baked pasta, especially when enjoyed with other toppings like grape tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil, and olive oil.
People enjoy this variety of Italian curd cheese for its soft texture and mild, tangy flavor.
It’s also a great source of protein, as well as calcium, which is important for keeping your bones healthy and strong (
You can include mozzarella in a variety of pasta dishes, as well as caprese pasta, which pairs fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil.
Here are some healthy meat options to boost the protein content of your meal.
Tuna has a mild flavor and firm texture, making it a versatile addition to a wide range of dishes.
It’s also loaded with important nutrients, including protein, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help combat inflammation (
You can mix canned tuna into cream-based sauces to ramp up the nutritional value or add it to pasta salad with ingredients like peas, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and dill.
11. Ground turkey
Compared to ground beef, ground turkey is lower in saturated fat and can be a healthy swap in many different pasta dishes (
Plus, ground turkey can help boost your intake of many nutrients, including protein, B vitamins, and iron (
Try using ground turkey in place of other types of meat like pork or beef to give recipes, like pasta bolognese, a healthy twist.
12. Chicken breast
Chicken breast is a great ingredient to keep in hand and a staple ingredient in many pasta dishes.
It’s highly nutritious and contains a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as a good amount of protein packed into each serving (
Ingredients like garlic, grated cheese, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes all work particularly well in pasta dishes paired with chicken breast.
These flavorful sauces deliver a host of nutrients on their own over pasta or combined with other ingredients on this list.
Typically made by blending pine nuts, fresh basil, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, pesto can be a nutritious and delicious pasta topping.
It’s particularly rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and contains some protein as well (
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even mix in other greens to take your homemade pesto to the next level. Consider adding coriander, spinach, kale, parsley, or arugula.
14. Bolognese sauce
Bolognese is a classic pasta sauce that traditionally contains ingredients like olive oil, ground meat, tomato paste, and blended veggies, all of which are very nutritious and can definitely fit into a healthy, well-rounded diet.
However, if you’re making it at home, there are plenty of ways to enhance the nutritional value of bolognese sauce even more.
For example, you can add more veggies, like zucchini and spinach, swap the ground beef for ground turkey instead, or try enjoying lentil bolognese for a high fiber, plant-based alternative.
15. Avocado sauce
Avocados can add a rich and creamy texture to pasta while also supplying a host of important nutrients.
In fact, avocados are loaded with fiber, potassium, vitamin K, folate, and copper, among other nutrients (
Try mixing mashed avocados with olive oil, garlic, and a bit of fresh lemon juice to whip up a creamy, tangy avocado pasta sauce at home.
16. Lemon garlic sauce
Lemon garlic sauce can bring a zingy, fresh flavor to pasta dishes, as well as a variety of nutrients.
For example, olive oil can support heart health and reduce inflammation, while lemon juice is brimming with vitamin C, a nutrient that also acts as an antioxidant (
Best of all, lemon garlic sauce is easy to make at home by simply blending olive oil with chopped garlic, lemon juice, and seasonings like salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
17. Greek yogurt Alfredo sauce
Though Alfredo sauce is typically considered a high calorie pasta topping, there are a few simple swaps that can reduce the calorie count and improve the nutrition.
For example, instead of using butter and heavy cream — both of which are high in saturated fat and calories — you can try using Greek yogurt or cottage cheese as the base to lighten it up (
Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are both great sources of protein, which can help keep you feeling full between meals to promote weight management (
These delicious flavorings will bring beneficial plant compounds to your meal.
Basil is a flavorful herb and a mainstay in many Italian dishes, including pasta.
It has also been linked to numerous health benefits. For example, some test-tube studies suggest that it may ease inflammation and support respiratory health (
Though more studies in humans are needed, some research suggests that basil may also have powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial effects (
All the same, most research uses basil extract, which is far more concentrated in its compounds than fresh basil.
Oregano is a culinary herb known for its peppery and pungent taste.
In addition to bringing a unique flavor and aroma to pasta recipes, oregano also offers several potential health benefits, thanks to the presence of natural compounds like carvacrol and thymol.
In fact, according to one test-tube study, oregano extract could even act as an antioxidant and slow the growth of certain types of bacteria (
This fragrant herb has a slightly sweet taste and distinct aroma that works well in a wide range of recipes, including pasta.
Besides adding an extra dose of flavor to dishes, rosemary may also possess potent health-promoting properties (
It’s also rich in several antioxidants and beneficial compounds, including rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, eugenol, and carnosol (
21. Red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are made from dried and crushed red chili peppers. People often use them to dial up the heat and nutritional value of many different pasta dishes.
Though red pepper flakes are typically used in small amounts, they offer many of the same benefits associated with chili peppers. They also contain capsaicin, the compound that gives chilis their spiciness (37).
Interestingly, studies show that capsaicin can alleviate pain and may even speed up metabolism to help you maintain a moderate weight (
22. Garlic powder
Adding garlic powder to your pasta can be a convenient and easy way to take advantage of the many health benefits that garlic has to offer.
In particular, some studies suggest that garlic may help lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and support healthy blood pressure levels (
While you may need to consume a high amount to reach the dosage used in these studies, garlic powder can still be a nutritious and flavor-packed addition to your pasta.
There are many healthy toppings available that can be a great addition to pasta dishes.
Many types of veggies, meats, cheeses, sauces, and spices are rich in nutrients and can help support your health while adding enjoyable flavors and textures to your meal.
Try some of the toppings listed above or experiment with other ingredients to make your own healthy pasta at home.
Just one thing
Try this today: You can easily give almost any pasta dish an easy upgrade by piling on the nutrient-dense ingredients, like veggies.
I like making macaroni and cheese and mixing in chickpeas, broccoli, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts to make it a healthy, high fiber meal!
If you’re looking for other noodle options beyond traditional pasta, check out these low-carb veggie noodle recipes.