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 are surely plenty of tasty lower-calorie food options for you to try.
It’s no good pretending that a pasta or rice substitute, for example, 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 that are equally important: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. By counting macros, it leads to better overall body composition and can help you lose fat in the long-term.
For many people, wheat bread is certainly a diet staple. The problem with this is that the majority of bread on the market uses refined wheat, which generally 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.
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, surprisingly, may 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.
Cauliflower’s mild flavor makes it an especially 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 compared to the same amount of rice or pasta.
Total prep and cooking time is 10 minutes. Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.
Spaghetti squash is an excellent lower calorie food alternative to traditional spaghetti. This winter vegetable is nutritious, and it also 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, compared to over 100 calories for a cup of pasta. Squash also contains higher amounts of protein and far fewer carbohydrates.
Total prep and cooking time is 40 minutes. Recipe adapted from Love and Lemons.
Due to its large, circular shape and versatile taste profile, portobello mushrooms make the perfect burger bun substitute. Mushrooms have a more substantial “food” feel than other low calorie 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.
Total prep and cooking time is 1 hour and 5 minutes. Recipe adapted from Primavera Kitchen.
Zucchini lasagna is delicious, and it certainly makes a fantastic alternative to traditional pasta. The low-carb, lower-calorie, and naturally gluten-free food 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.
Total prep and cooking time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Recipe adapted from Jo Cooks.
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 food 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.
Total prep and cooking time is 30 minutes. Recipe adapted from Tasty.
Experiment with herbs and spices, and also 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.