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July 15, 2021 / Amy Height

Low-Carb Food Swaps: 13 Tasty Swaps to Drastically Decrease Carbs

Sun-dried tomato and parmesan zucchini noodles on a white plate on a blue napkin with a fork next to it.

When you picture the inside of a grocery store you may think of rows of canned vegetables, sauces, freezer meals, and numerous bread and grain products.

That’s likely because Americans choose grains and starches over most other foods. A Pew Research study found that the average number of daily calories from grains jumped from about 400 to 600 between 1970 and 2010, along with an increase in overall calories consumed. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes remained low, with very little change in their consumption rates.

Cutting back on carbohydrates through low-carb swaps, especially from processed foods, could help in reducing the risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and obesity in some populations. Research suggests that a moderate reduction in carbohydrates per day can make a noticeable difference in metabolic health, weight maintenance, and blood sugar regulation.

Many lifestyle programs, such as keto, paleo, and Whole30, have touted the benefits of reducing carbs, but finding simple, cost-effective low-carb food swaps can be challenging.

Thankfully, low-carb meal plans don’t have to be difficult or taste bad. If you’re looking for creative ways to boost your overall nutrition, lower your carb intake, and eat delicious food, check out our 13 favorite low-carb swaps.

Benefits of a Low-Carb Lifestyle

Low-carb lifestyles have gained in popularity over the past decade and continue to be a viable option for many Americans, due in part to the numerous benefits that people experience. These may include:

If you’re looking to start your own low-carb journey, talk to your doctor to discuss any potential health risks associated with making a major lifestyle change. After you confirm with your doctor, you can start your healthy meal planning with these low-carb food swaps.

1. Swap Wheat Bread for Low-Carb Breads

Bread

Many brands of whole wheat bread contain about 13 grams of carbohydrates per slice. If you’re practicing a keto lifestyle, that is nearly all your carbohydrates in one slice of bread! Thankfully, there are numerous grain-free, paleo-style low-carb swaps offered at your local grocery store.

Making your own bread is also a cost-effective way to maintain your low-carb lifestyle with just a few ingredients. One of our favorite carb replacement foods is this grain-free, keto-friendly bread that slices just like regular bread.

2. Swap Rice for Cauliflower Rice

rice

Not all rice is created equal (brown, black, and wild rice have more fiber and nutrients than white rice), and just one cup of cooked rice can have up to 45 grams of carbs. That’s about a day’s worth of carbs on a low-carb diet.

If you're looking for a low-carb swap, try cauliflower rice. Most grocery stores sell pre-riced cauliflower in the refrigerator or freezer sections, but it’s also easy to make your own. Simply steam florets, food process into a coarse pulp, and use a tea towel to remove excess moisture. At just five grams of carbohydrates per cup, you’ll still be able to enjoy the texture and flavor of rice – without worrying about the carbs. Cauliflower rice is a great way to round out a meal; try it in this Greek shrimp and cauliflower rice skillet.

3. Swap Noodles for Spiralized Vegetables

noodles

Even on a low-carb diet, you can still enjoy a delicious meal like pesto chicken zucchini noodles using a few strategic low-carb food swaps. One of the easiest ways to create long noodles similar to spaghetti is with a spiralizer. Vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, and carrots are ideal for spiralizing and are a tasty, gluten-free option.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a mandoline, vegetable peeler, or a sharp knife to turn firm vegetables into noodles. Enjoy them raw, tossed in a salad, or lightly steamed with a low-carb topping or sauce.

As an added bonus, these low-carb swaps have more fiber, vitamins, and micronutrients than wheat pasta; plus, they’re filling and help you meet the recommended servings of vegetables for the day.

Other low-carb noodle options include:

4. Swap Granola for Grain-Free Variations

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Many commercially prepared grain-based granolas have upwards of 35 grams of carbohydrates in a half-cup serving due to their high sugar content and reliance on grains. To continue enjoying the crunch of granola without the carbs, try this low-carb swap of cinnamon nut granola.

For something entirely different, try out coconut chia pudding with spiced pears. Chia pudding is a great option for a quick, low-prep breakfast. Luckily, there are a variety of low-carb breakfast recipes available to keep your morning meal interesting and appetizing.

5. Swap Crackers for Cheese Crisps

cheese crisp

Crackers are a crunchy, delicious snack, but can contain up to 19 grams of carbohydrates in a 6-cracker serving.

If you’re looking for a low-carb food swap that’s also keto-friendly, try cheese crisps. Simply grate your favorite cheese, sprinkle it onto parchment paper in little mounds, and bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Swap Wheat Tortillas for Alternative Flour Tortillas

wheat

Tortillas are a favorite for tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and more, but they come with a lot of carbohydrates. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to make low-carb tortillas with flours like almond, coconut, and arrowroot. There are also a number of brands that sell low-carb tortillas making it even easier to satisfy that low-carb swap.

For baked dishes, like enchiladas, try swapping out tortillas with long slices of zucchini or sweet potato for a nutrient-rich dinner treat.

7. Swap Pizza Crust for Cauliflower Crust

pizza crust

Pizza is a dish that everyone loves but is tough to give up if you’re following a low-carb lifestyle. But you don’t have to completely give it up when you use a delicious cauliflower crust.

With just a few ingredients like eggs, cheese, and cauliflower, you can make your very own crust at home. Try our very own sausage, fennel, and onion pizza with a cauliflower crust, or get creative and add your own toppings for an easy weeknight meal. This pizza comes in at just 14 grams of carbs per serving, but you can easily make it more or less by changing up your toppings.

8. Swap Mashed Potatoes for Mashed Turnips

turnips

Potatoes are delicious and versatile, but they also are starchy and high in carbohydrates. One potato can contain 25 grams of carbs, and that’s without adding toppings or seasoning.

There are a number of root vegetables ideal for low-carb swaps from carrots to celery root, but turnips are a favorite because they are low-carb and very tasty. They contain only a third of the carbohydrates in potatoes and are packed with folate and B6.

To prepare, simply cut into large chunks and boil or roast until fork tender. Add them to a food processor or blender with your favorite seasoning, fat of your choice, and milk (dairy-free is great, too). Process until smooth, pour in a bowl, and serve hot.

9. Swap Croutons for Nuts

nuts

Croutons offer a delicious crunch to salads, but since they’re typically made with wheat bread, they also contain significant carbohydrates.

Keep the crunch and the flavor by tossing salads with your favorite nuts or seeds. Some of our favorites are almonds and walnuts, which are perfectly bite-sized and readily available at the store. An ounce of almonds contains just 5 grams of carbs, a fraction of a typical crouton. Nuts make a perfect substitution for croutons whether you’re on a low-carb diet or a slow-carb diet.

10. Swap Hamburger Buns with Lettuce Wraps

lettuce wrap

This low-carb food swap is one of the easiest to do because you don’t have to cook anything. Simply buy a fresh head of your favorite lettuce (romaine and iceberg are the sturdiest), and tear off whole leaves to create a crunchy, nutritious “bun.” Try Moroccan chicken burger lettuce wraps if you’re looking for healthy ways to incorporate this low-carb swap into your diet.

This is also a great low-carb swap for tacos or tuna salad. Whole romaine lettuce leaves create the perfect vessel to hold all your favorite ingredients without losing the flavor.

11. Swap French Fries for Parsnip Fries

fries

You may think there can’t be a low-carb replacement food that tastes as good as French fries, but you’d be surprised at how delicious oven-baked parsnip fries are! A typical serving of standard French fries contains around 48 g of carbohydrates because they’re made with starch-filled potatoes.

Instead of overloading your body with carbs, simply peel, cut, season, and bake parsnips to enjoy tasty fries that are low in carbs. Parsnips contain beneficial vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate, along with filling fiber. With so much to feel good about, you may not ever go back to standard French fries.

In addition to parsnips, other vegetables make excellent low-carb swaps for fries, such as:

If you’re looking for a recipe that will have dinner ready in a quick 35 minutes, try this hummus-spiced soup with lemon-herb parsnip fries.

12. Swap Lasagna Noodles for Eggplant

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Lasagna is a versatile dish that can be made with a range of ingredients such as fresh vegetables, meat sauce, and multiple kinds of cheeses. The noodles are what contribute an abundance of carbohydrates to this meal. One single strip of lasagna pasta contains 19 g of carbohydrates, and these carbs usually come from white flour.

What you may not have considered is that it’s easy to swap out the lasagna noodles for another ingredient. To substantially lower the carb count on your next slice of heaven, swap lasagna noodles for thinly sliced eggplant. An entire cup of chopped eggplant contains just over 4 g carbs and almost 3 g of dietary fiber.

For a filling and savory low-carb meal, prepare lasagna-style eggplant casserole and enjoy a lighter version of lasagna.

13. Swap White Flour for Almond Flour

flour

White flour is one of the largest contributors to the high carbohydrate intake of the average person. One cup of white flour contains approximately 95 g of carbohydrates or over one-third of your recommended daily intake. Abundant in baked goods, breads, and pasta, if you want to eat low-carb, you should aim to minimize your consumption of white flour.

The next time you head to your pantry for flour, reach for a carb replacement food like almond flour instead. By comparison, one cup of almond flour contains only 20 g of carbohydrates along with a generous 12 g of dietary fiber! This zucchini breakfast bread is a grain-free, low-carb way to start your day.

The Takeaway

Low-carb food swaps are perfect when you’re creating keto meal plans or simply working toward a low-carb lifestyle. If you’re looking for more creative ways to eat low-carb, PlateJoy Health is here to help.

Our meal plans and recipes can be customized to your specific diet, including low-carb, Paleo, and keto, helping you reap the benefits of meal planning without stressing about what to make for the week. Sign up for a  free trial and learn more about how PlateJoy Health can help you on your road to a healthy, low-carb lifestyle.

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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