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5 Lower Calorie, Lower Carb Food Alternatives To Try

02/21/2020
By Soji James, CPT, CSCS

Carbohydrates form part of a healthy diet, but too much of anything can be a bad thing. The good news is that if you’re looking to limit your calorie and carb intake, there’s plenty of tasty lower-calorie food options for you to try.

It’s no good pretending that a pasta or rice substitute will taste the same or have the same texture as grains. But, if you try out some new recipes, you can find an alternative that’s just as delicious and can help to keep your carb intake down.

If you’re trying to shed a few pounds, a lot of people tend to calculate calories to lose weight. However, you can count macros, instead of calories. There are three types of macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. By counting macros, it leads to better overall body composition and can help you lose fat in the long-term.

Healthy Food Swaps: Lower Calorie Foods You’ll Love

For many people, wheat bread is a diet staple. The problem with this is that the majority of bread on the market uses refined wheat, which tends to include fewer nutrients and fiber. Wheat bread has been found to cause a spike in blood sugar levels and increase calorie intake. That’s not to say all carbs are the enemy, though.

10 Healthy Food Swaps – Whitney Simmons

Whether you’re on a keto, paleo, low-carb diet, or fancy a lighter meal, carb alternatives are a great option. To fully enjoy your food choices, it’s not just about what you eat but how you eat. Mindful eating exercises like slowing down and removing all distractions can help you stay present and even help prevent overeating. These food substitutes are ideal if you’re trying to lose weight or just want to cut down on your carb intake.

Five Foods With Low Calories and How to Cook Them

1. Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower’s mild flavor makes it a great rice substitute. It’s also a versatile and healthy swap for other less nutritious, high-calorie foods. You also benefit from a ton of fiber and nutrients, including vitamin K, C, B6, and folate. Cauliflower is a non-starchy, complex carb with lots of fiber and some naturally occurring sugars. One cup of cauliflower rice contains about a sixth of the carbs in the same amount of rice or pasta.

A bowl of cauliflower rice perfect for a lower calorie food alternative.
Cauliflower Is A Perfect Substitute For Rice (Image source: Shutterstock)

Cauliflower Rice Recipe

Total prep and cooking time is 10 minutes. Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium cauliflower 
  • A handful of chopped coriander
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

Directions

  1. Cut out the core and stalks from the cauliflower. 
  2. Pulse the rest of the cauliflower in a food processor to produce grains the size of rice. 
  3. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan. 
  4. Add all ingredients to the frying pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft but not mushy. 
  5. Serve up and enjoy!
  6. Spaghetti Squash

2. Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is an excellent alternative to traditional spaghetti. The winter vegetable is nutritious and delivers a big dose of vitamin A, folic acid, potassium, and beta carotene. The low-carb, healthy spaghetti alternative is full of fiber and resembles long, stringy pasta. On average, a cup of spaghetti squash contains about 42 calories in comparison to over 100 calories for a cup of pasta. Squash also contains higher amounts of protein and far fewer carbohydrates.

Spaghetti squash in a white bowl.
Spaghetti Squash, The Low-Carb Healthy Alternative With Full Of Fiber (Image source: Shutterstock)

Spaghetti Squash Recipe

Total prep and cooking time is 40 minutes. Recipe adapted from Love and Lemons.

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash 
  • 2 tsp olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper to season

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Cut the spaghetti squash in half from top to bottom. 
  3. Scoop out the seeds and discard them. 
  4. Drizzle the inside of the squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Bake in the oven for around 40 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown. 
  6. Once baked, remove from the oven. 
  7. When cool to touch, use a fork to fluff up the strands from the inside of the squash. 
  8. Serve as desired.

3. Portobello Mushroom Burger Buns

Due to its large, circular shape and versatile taste profile, portobello mushrooms make the perfect burger bun substitute. Mushrooms have a more substantial feel than other bread substitutes, so you’ll still feel like you’re sticking your teeth into a juicy burger. Mushrooms not only taste delicious but have been linked to maintaining good health, longevity, and life quality.

Portobello Mushroom The Perfect Juicy Burger Bun Substitute (Image source: Shutterstock)

Portobello Mushroom Burger Bun Recipe

Total prep and cooking time is 1 hour and 5 minutes. Recipe adapted from Primavera Kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 8-12 portobello mushrooms without stems and gills 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper to season 
  • 1 minced garlic clove 
  • Burger or veggie burgers of your choice

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. 
  2. Add the mushrooms into the bowl and coat well, set aside for 1 hour. 
  3. Grill the mushroom buns for 4-5 minutes. 
  4. Build your burger with your portobello mushrooms. Try adding guacamole, red onions, and your favorite burger before topping it off with another mushroom bun.

4. Zucchini Lasagna Sheets

Zucchini lasagna is delicious and a fantastic alternative to traditional pasta. The low-carb, lower-calorie, and naturally gluten-free option is simple to prep and packed with flavor. Spiralized zucchini has been a significant trend in the kitchen, but the flexible vegetable can do wonders in your lasagna as well.

A tray of zucchini ready to be made into a flavorful lasagna.
Zucchini Lasagna Sheets As A Naturally Gluten-Free Alternative To Pasta (Image source: Shutterstock)

Zucchini Lasagna Recipe

Total prep and cooking time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Recipe adapted from Jo Cooks.

Ingredients

  • 1lb lean ground beef 
  • 1 large onion, chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes 
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce 
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped 
  • 3 large zucchini 
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 ½ cups of ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Start by making the sauce. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft before adding garlic and ground beef. 
  2. Cook the beef until no longer pink. Add basil, hot sauce, pepper, and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes. 
  3. While the sauce is simmering, prepare the zucchini. Slice the zucchini, so they are roughly a ⅛ of an inch in thickness. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees. 
  5. Next, you can assemble your lasagna in this order: zucchini slice, a bit of mozzarella cheese, a layer of onions, meat sauce, and then ricotta cheese. Repeat this until you finish with about three layers of zucchini slices. Top off the final level with a sprinkle of mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan cheese. 
  6. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the top cheese layer is golden and bubbly.

5. Carrot, Butternut Squash, or Turnip Fries

For a lot of people, a side of fries is mandatory with a meal. As tasty as they are, potato fries usually contain a lot of oil, salt, and starch. For a lower calorie option, the next time you fancy some fries, try using carrots, butternut squash, or turnips instead of potatoes. Here’s a recipe for carrot fries, but you can substitute the carrots with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or turnips.

Carrot and turnip fries on a white plate.
Carrots, Butternut Squash And Turnips As A Tasty Substitute For Potatoes (Image source: Shutterstock)

Carrot Fries Recipe

Total prep and cooking time is 30 minutes. Recipe adapted from Tasty.

Ingredients

  • 4 carrots 
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil 
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped 
  • 2 tsp paprika 
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • 2 tsp pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. 
  2. Cut carrots into fries. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and coat well. 
  3. Place carrots on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve up.

Make Bread, Pasta, and Rice Substitutes Fun and Exciting

Experiment with herbs and spices and focus on using whole foods packed with lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whether you fancy a lighter lunch or are actively trying to reduce your carb and calorie intake, low carb alternatives can be just as delicious, if not more so.

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