Some of our favorite meals—pizza, sandwiches, and gourmet pasta dishes—are all (unfortunately) very high and heavy in the carbohydrate department.
While the idea of a cheat meal sounds understandable, what if we didn’t have to sacrifice our waistlines for yummy food? Luckily, there are many ways to turn these dishes into lower carb, healthier, and nutrient dense options.
It’s all about balancing our macro-nutrients and assuring that our body is getting the right dosage of each.
Below, Aaptiv broke down twelve of our favorite carb swaps that take the guessing game and hard work out of creating delicious meals.
Who knows, maybe you’ll like these options better—we know your body and energy level definitely will!
A Misconception of Carbs
Before we deep dive into our lower carbohydrate food options, there should be some clarification on what the difference between good and bad carbs are.
We don’t want to eliminate all carbs from our diet. If we did that, we would be without the nutrients found in vegetables and fruits, along with healthy grains and legumes.
For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on swapping processed and refined carbs. (These are what you see in breads, rice, pastas, and packaged food.)
Cauliflower has earned quite the reputation for itself during the last several years. It appears that anything can be swapped by using this versatile veggie.
Whether it’s subbing in for potatoes or rice, it adds depth of flavor and texture to any dish. But, our favorite usage is swapping cauliflower for gluten-heavy pizza crust! Jeanne David, founder of Outer Aisle, explains the nutritional benefit of swapping out cauliflower for a traditional bread crust.
“Cauliflower is high in vitamin C and [is] a good source of folate, an important B vitamin for brain health. It’s fat-free, cholesterol-free, and also low in sodium. Additionally, cauliflower contains only 25 calories in one-sixth of a medium head. A traditional portion size also has two grams of dietary fiber and only five grams of carbohydrates (versus 36 grams for just one traditional slice of pizza crust!).”
*Be careful and make sure to look at the cauliflower pizza crust options when shopping at the grocery store. Some only use a percentage of cauliflower and still add refined and processed carbohydrates. We recommend looking online for options containing only cauliflower, egg, and cheese—such as Outer Aisle and Cali’flour Foods.
Salad or Lettuce Wrap
One of the hardest food items to turn down are sandwiches. Most of us grew up eating them at the lunch table. So, this swap can be a rather tricky one, but it doesn’t have to mean zero compromise.
Take your favorite sandwich and turn it into a salad! Do you love BLTs? Try a bed of butter lettuce and spinach, instead. If you love club sandwiches, you may find that you’re a fan of cobb salads.
What we love about creating fresh salads out of your favorite sandwich items is that you can have total creativity and add in as many of your favorite ingredients. Plus, the added vegetables will help you get to your potassium count for the day.
Oodles of Noodles
One of the best investments for your kitchen (and health) is a spiralizer. It’ll help you turn some of your favorite veggies into noodles for your next pasta dish.
Some popular vegetables to spiralize include: zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, and beets. If you’re lost on which noodles you can substitute for a particular dish, we have some recommendations.
For zucchini, try swapping it in for your traditional Italian pesto meal and blanch the noodles in bone broth (instead of water) for extra flavor and added nutrition. For carrots, try a spicy peanut Thai dish (like pad Thai). For beets, they pair excellently with soft cheeses (like goat), so any combination of the two in a dish will add bold flavors.
For those of you who love Asian noodle dishes, kelp noodles are your holy grail ingredient. Taking on the consistency of glass noodles when placed into a hot, soup dish (they should not be cooked, only rinsed), they fill you up and aesthetically look exactly like glass noodles.
Instead of the 121 net carbs of glass noodles (we know, it’s high!), kelp noodles have one gram of carbohydrates and one gram of fiber, equaling zero net carbs! In our minds, this swap is a no brainer.
Replace It With Cheese or Nuts
Or, shall we say, replace it with fresh and organic cheese. As for the nuts, try and stay away from the ones coated in sugar or preservatives.
When it comes to salads, instead of using croutons, try subbing in cheese or nuts for the extra crunch and texture. The team at Chevoo recommends using a soft goat cheese, as it can be paired with almost anything.
Additionally, different types of goat cheeses can add in a wide variety of flavors depending on their seasonings. You can also add olive oil for a dose of healthy fats and delicious taste.
Almond flour is a useful tool to have in the kitchen for anyone following a low-carb diet. With a small fraction of the carbohydrate count to traditional flour, it’s great if you’re trying to make homemade bread or any sweet baked good.
Additionally, it is the best swap for trying to fry meats or fish. With the use of egg and almond flour (with your favorite seasonings added in), you can enjoy duplicates of your favorite guilty pleasure fried food—whether it’s fried chicken or crispy fish sticks.
*Coconut flour is also a great substitute for traditional flour!
Make It Sweet…Potato
While this swap isn’t bringing the carb count low, it is swapping for a healthier option filled with nutrients and fiber. Remember, it’s important to not stray away from healthy carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes.
According to the USDA, a sweet potato has 21 grams of carbohydrates, three of which are fiber, equaling 18 net carbs; as opposed to a standard potato (Russet), which the USDA claims has 37 carbohydrates with four grams of fiber, equaling to 33 net carbs.
Quinoa and Chia Seeds Are Your Friend
Many are scared of grains, and some throw quinoa and chia seeds out the door when they think of a low-carb diet. But they shouldn’t!
Packed with nutrients, these foods are technically seeds and under the pseudo-cereal grains category. While you might freak out at the higher carbohydrate count, know that the foods are packed with fiber, which offsets the net carb count.
For example, while a traditional serving of quinoa has 37 grams of carbohydrates, eight of those are fiber, equaling 29 net grams of carbs.
For chia seeds, there’s a reported twelve grams of carbs per serving, ten of which are fiber—this equals to only two net grams of carbs per serving.
Try swapping quinoa for standard rice dishes, such as in your poke bowls or casseroles. For chia seeds, try adding some into your next morning smoothie for an added punch of healthy Omega-3 fats and fiber.
If you’ve never taken a fork to a cooked spaghetti squash, you’re missing out on tons of fun. There’s a reason why many use spaghetti squash as a substitute for traditional pasta dishes. Its consistency and texture reflects that of pasta—no need to spiralize or dice up anything!
The richness, and somewhat nuttiness, of this vegetable makes it a great vessel to carry the flavor of Italian pasta dishes. More than the taste, you’ll love the nutritional value that comes with one serving of spaghetti squash.
Spaghetti squash contains fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B6. Best of all, while a serving (one cup) of pasta contains over forty carbs, a serving (one cup) of spaghetti squash has seven grams (with one and a half being made of fiber).
Shirataki Noodles and Rice
New to the low-carb scene, shirataki noodles are making quite the splash. Why? Because, if you didn’t know that someone had swapped out your traditional noodles, you probably wouldn’t notice a difference. Mind blowing!
Shirataki come from the fiber of konjac yam in Japan and have the appearance of a thin, translucent, and gelatinous noodle. In many health food stores, you’ll notice them under the name miracle noodles or konjac noodles. They can be subbed in for anything, whether you’re making an Asian dish or a classic pasta carbonara.
Swap Out The Crackers
Luckily, you don’t have to skip your favorite appetizer when going out to eat or hosting a friendly get together. Ask for (or serve) vegetables instead of bread or crackers. Besides the traditional celery and carrots, great veggies that pair with dips include: cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Fruit Over Candy
This isn’t a carb-swap, but instead an overall health-conscious swap. Candy is full of GMO rich foods like high fructose corn syrup and loads of processed, refined, and bleached sugar.
Fruit is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It’s true superfood that the USDA recommends having five to 12 servings of per day!
If you’re looking for the fruits that are lowest in carbohydrate count, but still fulfill the proper serving counts of fruit a day, try incorporating: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, coconut, cantaloupe, and watermelon (all of which have under seven grams of carbohydrates).