If you want to cut carbs, then swapping some common dinner ingredients like bread, rice and pasta with fruits and vegetables is a great way to get started. Now, you might have already heard about a few low-carb food swaps along these lines – ie making spaghetti type noodles from courgettes (or zucchini, depending where you live) or using caulflower in pizza crust, but there are a heap of other suggestions too.
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Why Cut Carbs?
First I have to say that carbs, per se are not bad for you – we need them for energy and the right type of carbs supply many essential nutrients we need each day.
However, it’s also try that some people don’t get on with high levels of carbs in their diet. I’m one of them. The fastest way for me to gain weight, particularly around my middle, is to eat three high-carb meals a day.
Partly this is because it’s very easy to overdo portion sizes, and therefore calories, when eating starchy carbs like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes – but, it’s also true that refined carbohydrates – the white versions of all those foods- can cause a rapid release of glucose in the system which sees an excess sugar being shuttled off into your fat stores.
Cutting carbs totally is one way to avoid the problem, but, it’s not the best one as it cuts nutrients from your diet and can be hard to stick to, so, a better solution can be to merely try and lower carbs by swapping some of your starchy carbs for fruits and vegetables.
Doing this can cut carbs and, if you were mostly eating refined carbs before, you may find you increase levels of nutrients and fibre in your diet. So, how do you do it – here’s 33 interesting ideas to try.
9 Low-Carb Swaps for Bread, Crackers or Wraps
There are lots of ways veggies can replace bread, crackers and wraps – like these…
Sushi burritos LA restaurant Kye’s wrap their burritos in nori seaweed rather than tortilla wraps (that’s them above). To make it work for you, think about creating fillings about the size of a sushi roll. To keep them together either use sushi rolling techniques (check out how to roll sushi here), or, wrap your wrap in a little cling film or tin foil at the bottom like you would a kebab or burrito to keep everything in place.
Veggie Toast: Grilled slices of aubergine make a brilliant replacement for toast topped with things like egg or tuna mayonnaise, or slices of cheese and ham. Cut them in a round shape, and you can also make mini-pizza style bites.
You can also try sweet potato toast. Literally, cut a sweet potato into slices and pop them into the toaster (you’ll need to do this at least twice) or under the grill.
Mushroom Buns: Grilled flat mushrooms work like buns around burgers or sandwich fillings.
Celery Cracksticks: Celery sticks make a great replacement for any kind of cracker. They fill brilliantly with things like cream cheese, peanut butter and tuna or egg mayonnaise.
A great idea that mixes savoury and sweet are Ants on a Log. Fill a celery stick with peanut butter and add raisins on top.
Cucucrackers: I’ve also used cucumber slices like crackers as a base for cheese, peanut butter and hummus. If you like it, raw courgette (zucchini) works as well.
Be like Elsie’s: Elsie’s is a restaurant in Pennsylvania who are serving their sandwiches in a sliced dill pickle – they add ham, cheese or turkey (and sometimes all three) with tomato. (check out the pictures here).
If you watching your salt intake, you can also use a cucumber sliced lengthways with the seeds hollowed out.
Lettuce Wraps: You can serve all sorts of things in leaves of lettuce and cabbage or sheets of nori seaweed. Either use the leaves like cups, or wrap the food in them like a parcel or around them as a tortilla wrap alternative. This also works brilliantly as a replacement for burger buns – even McDonald’s tried it for a while!
Avocado buns – erm, I’ve seen this – I’m really not sure it’s a great idea! But theory has it that if you cut an avocado in half and peel it, you can serve things like slices of bacon between the two halves like a sandwich.
Personally, I think that looks slippery and messy – just make filled avocado boats instead!
Tomato Slices: Again, I’ve seen these as an idea as a burger bun, but I think they work better for thin fillings. Use large beefsteak tomatoes and sliced them fairly thickly, then add things like ham, cheese or bacon. You can add a little mayo or something to stop them sticking – but, they are pretty messy.
5 Fruity Alternatives to Bread
Technically, I just did this with the avocado and tomato suggestions above … but, I’m about to get really controversial and talk about ways you can actually use fruit as a lower-carb swap for crackers, bread, wraps etc.
Pineapple Slices: I know, I know – but, I had THE most amazing starter at an Indian restaurant in Perth which saw them layering grilled pineapple and paneer cheese in a kind of sandwich. You could also try it with ham, halloumi, feta and bacon.
Use Apple Slices: I have eaten both hummus and prawn mayonnaise on apple slices before now – and it was good.
Pears: They work really, really well with blue cheese.
Banana: Try peanut butter on a banana halved lengthwise and tell me it’s not a thing of beauty!
Watermelon: It will need to be really fresh and crunchy, but you can top or fill triangles of watermelon with a filling of feta cheese, burrata, goat’s cheese or cottage cheese. Add some mint.
4 Low-Carb Alternatives to Breakfast Cereal
There are a lot of low carb breakfast options – mostly containing eggs – but, if you want to replicate the convenience and taste of cereal, here’s four ideas to try.
Nature’s Cereal: If you haven’t yet seen this TikTok trend, it’s basically a mix of blueberries, pomegranate jewels and another berry like blackberries topped with coconut water. It’s actually really good and the pomegranate jewels do help add crunch like cereal.
When this first launched I did a piece looking at whether Nature’s Cereal is healthy and suggested that you also add a little milk or yogurt into the mix to help bring up your calcium content.
Zoats: Okay, this mix of oats and grated zucchini will contain some carbs, but by replacing some of the oats in the recipe with grated zucchini you at least reduce the number (and steel cut oats are a low GI food which means they convert slowly to sugar in your body anyway).
To give you an idea of the difference, a 44g serving of plain steel cut oats porridge oats made with water contains 29g of carbs, a serving of this recipe for Zoats contains just 15g of carbs. It’s also super quick to make in the morning.
Carrot Overnight Oats: If even the quick recipe above is too much to deal with in the morning, then you can also make an overnight form of Zoats. This recipe uses carrot instead of zucchini and has just 20g of carbs- you could also leave out the maple syrup and make it slightly lower.
Savoury Porridge: Another way to reduce the amount of oats you need at breakfast is to add other savoury ingredients to your porridge dish – I first tried this with kale, egg, spring onions and ponzu sauce and it kept me full until lunch. Here’s where to find the exact recipe and more ideas for savoury porridge.
11 Low-Carb Swaps for Pasta, Noodles and Rice
Sometimes the pasta or noodles are the star of the dish, but, if it’s more that you’re just using pasta, rice or noodles as a way to add bulk to a dish or simply put sauce on so you’re not scooping it up like soup, try these ideas…
Spiralized vegetables: Unless you’re very new to the low-carb diet life you’ve probably heard about Zoodles – which is basically zucchini passed through a sprialiser – but courgettes/zucchini isn’t the only vegetable you can spiralise.
The excellent book Spiralize Now by Denise Smart has a huge list of ways to swap pasta for vegetables including…
Broccoli steams, beetroot, butternut squash, pumpkin, swede, parsnips, green papaya, mooli or daikon radish (these last ones work particularly well in Asian-style dishes). I’d also suggest bell peppers (capsicums).
She also suggests using spiralized apples in salads (they work really well with prawns, crab, pork and chicken).
Obviously to make these you have to have a spiralizer – the Oxo one comes very highly recommended and doesn’t take up a lot of room on the counter.
If you don’t want to splash out on a spiralizer, you can also just use very finely chopped vegetables or, create Tagliatelle-style noodles using a vegetable peeler.
Beansprouts: If you’re making a soup like Laksa. Beef Noodle Soup or Pho, then skip the noodles and add beansprouts. For maximum crunch, you can just add (washed) beansprouts to the bottom of the bowl before you add the soup.
Or, if you prefer them a little more cooked toss them in for a minute or two when the soup is finished. Cooked versions also work better if you’re using them as a base for curry or stew sauces.
Peas: This is my swap with chilli when I’m on a low-carb kick. I just use them instead of rice.
Cauliflower Rice: Another swap you might have heard of, but it is pretty good so I’m including it here just in case.
To make it, blitz a cauliflower floret in a food processor, or grate it with the large holes of a cheese grater to create grains that look kind of like rice. Then saute it with a little bit of oil (and garlic if you like it) for 5 or so minutes.
Top tip – if you aren’t too worried about the calories, then add some flaked almonds or finely chopped almonds to the mix as well.
Shiritaki Noodles: These are actually made from a type of plant called konjac and so, kind of count as a vegetable in the scheme of things. Because your body can’t digest konjac these technically count as containing no calories. See more about how to use them in this post.
To replace pasta, I prefer a brand called Slendier.
Spaghetti Squash: The name kind of gives this one away but you might not think it to start with as it looks like like a normal butternut squash from the outside. However, once you cook spaghetti squash the flesh goes kind of stringy and it looks just like spaghetti.
To cook it, cut it in half and scrape out the seeds (you can also do this after it’s cooked if you prefer), place it face down on a baking tray and just bake it for about 30-40 minutes. It should be soft, but not squishy. Then just use a fork to rake out the squash strands.
Aubergine Slices: If you’re making a lasagne, you can replace all, or half of the lasagne sheets with slices of large vegetables like aubergine (aka eggplant) or butternut squash.
Kelp Noodles: Another ready-made product, kelp noodles are made from a form of seaweed and have just 6 calories per serving. See more about them here.
Oyster Mushrooms: These and other fleshy mushrooms make a great base for a lot of different pasta sauces. Because they have quite a meaty texture they can also feel more substantial than many of the other veggie swaps which can help counteract feelings of a being deprived by your low-carb diet.
Alt-Pastas: Okay, so technically they’re not a vegetable, they are plant-based and they’re so useful I’m just going to add them.
You can buy pastas made from beans and pulses that make a great lower carb swap for pasta – black bean pasta (which is actually made from soy, not black beans) is particularly good and it has just 9.8g of carbs per 100g serving – pasta has 73g per 100g.
4 Low-Carb Swaps for Mashed Potato and Fries
Creamy Cauliflower Mash: One of the best swaps for mashed potato is mashed cauliflower – however, the secret ingredient to add to it is a little bit of Greek Yogurt and/or some grated Parmesan cheese – it just lifts it up from being normal cauliflower in another form.
Pretty much any other root vegetable can stand in for potatoes, but do watch out – while a carrot or parsnip may have slightly fewer carbs than a potato, when you mash a vegetable you make it much faster for your body to digest it and, with the sweeter vegetables like carrots, swedes and parsnips you’ll get a sudden hit of carbs into your system which is what you’re probably trying to avoid.
Adding a little fat or oil will slow things down, but it’s better to use lower GI veggies to start with.
Halfsies: If you just want to lower-your carbs, you can swap half the potato in your recipe with another vegetable like cauliflower, carrot or swede. Also, beans work well and add an extra dash of filling protein.
Panko and Parmesan Fries: You can make these with all sorts of vegetables – sliced zucchini, red peppers, green beans, broccoli stalks, cucumber, eggplant – pretty much anything.
Just slice the vegetables into the right shape, then dip them in egg and cover them with either Panko breadcrumbs (still fewer carbs that potato chips) or, a mix of Panko and parmesan cheese. and fry – or over bake them (find a great oven-baked recipe here)
Celeriac Chips: As I’m typing this I remember we haven’t had these since we got to Australia but they used to be a staple when I lived in the UK. Just chop a celeriac into chip-shaped batons, toss them in olive oil and put them in a hot oven (about 200C) for around 25 minutes, flipping them over half way. They don’t go crunchy like French Fries, but otherwise, they’re pretty good.