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Low-Carb Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods

Between processed foods, snacks, pasta, potatoes and heavy side dishes, carbohydrates make up nearly half of American diets — 46 percent for men and 48 percent for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These foods may taste good, but they aren’t as good for your health and waistline. But instead of outright removing these snacks and treats from your diet, there are many low-carb alternatives on the market to help appease your cravings without feeling guilty. 

Benefits of a low-carb diet

Years ago, the Atkins diet — and more recently, the Keto diet — gave carbohydrates a bad rap. All carbs aren't the same, though. Yes, carbs from processed foods, such as chips and cookies, provide minimal nutritional value. But most Americans need healthy carbs and dietary fiber from whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, for energy.

However, some people need a low-carb diet for health reasons. For example, people with diabetes need to control their blood sugar, and many carbs can create a spike in insulin levels that can affect diabetics. Additionally, research from the New England Journal of Medicine determined a diet full of carbs high on the glycemic index was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Whenever you eat carbs, your body converts these foods into glucose to provide you with energy to carry out everyday functions. Foods higher on the glycemic index — a scale from 0 to 100 that measures the effect carbohydrates have on your blood sugar — release glucose faster and cause immediate spikes in blood sugar. Some diabetics need quick glucose spikes if their blood sugar is low, but too much glucose can also be detrimental. That’s why balance is key.

Research indicates a low-carb diet can be beneficial for managing diabetes and improving cardiovascular health, according to Harvard Health. Lowering carbohydrate intake has been shown to lower triglycerides and boost HDL cholesterol, which is considered good cholesterol.

A 20-year study of women showed a low-carb diet lowered heart disease risk by 30 percent and the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 percent.


Low-carb alternatives

Carbs contain starches, sugar and fiber. A low-carb diet doesn't mean you eliminate carbs; rather you choose foods that are nutrient-dense, meaning most of the carbs come from dietary fiber. Lentils are a prime example of a good carb — a ½-cup serving has 20 grams of carbs, of which 8 grams come from dietary fiber.

When you're at the store looking for low-carb alternatives, select foods and products with fewer ingredients that are high in protein. And make sure to look at the labels for dietary fiber!

Here are some options to consider when looking to swap out your favorite foods for low-carb options.

Low-carb alternative to rice

Cauliflower rice is the star and most popular rice alternative on the market. You can either make it at home by pulsing cauliflower florets in a food processor until they resemble gravel. If you’re in a time crunch, cauliflower rice is available for purchase at most grocery stores.

While not as popular, broccoli rice is another trendy vegetable-based rice alternative that has made its way to dinner tables. Like cauliflower, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable and is sturdy enough to mimic the texture of rice. The main benefit of cauliflower and broccoli rice is their mild flavor that doesn't overpower dishes. A ¾-cup serving has just 4 grams of carbs.

Beyond vegetables, some products use chickpea flour as a rice substitute, although chickpeas have more carbohydrates than other grain-free options. Shirataki rice is a popular rice alternative for low-carb eaters. This rice comes from the konjac root native to Asia. Konjac root contains glucomannan, a popular dietary fiber found in many supplements.

Low-carb pasta alternatives

Pasta is one of the harder foods to find low-carb versions of due to the taste and texture of traditional pasta. But, there are still several options to choose from.

Many dieters use vegetables such as zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash or spiralized carrots as a substitute for wheat-based spaghetti. You can either buy these pre-packaged or make them on your own with a spiralizer. 

Other products come dried in a box and are derived from legumes or vegetables. 

Edamame pasta comes from edamame bean flour, which gives it a green color and resembles spinach pasta. Edamame flour is high in protein and low in carbs, with 6 grams of net carbs per serving.

Black bean pasta made from dried black beans is also high in protein and low in carbs, with 8 grams of net carbs per serving.

You can also try pasta made from hearts of palm, the inner fibrous part of palm trees. This alternative doesn’t have much flavor, so it’s more of a vehicle for whichever sauce you plan to use with it. A 3-ounce serving contains 4 grams of carbs.

Shirataki, which is used as a rice alternative, also doubles as a popular substitute for noodles. The noodles, which originated in Japan, have 1 gram of carbs and 0 calories per 2-ounce serving.

Low-carb bread alternatives

With the rise of Keto diets, more food manufacturers have come up with ways to make low-carb bread alternatives by using ingredients such as arrowroot flour, flaxseed meal or almond flour.

One example is Sola bread, made with wheat gluten, arrowroot flour, soy flour and flaxseed meal. It has 7 grams of carbs per slice, which is about half of traditional white or wheat bread.

Some low-carb breads, like Keto Thin from Julia’s Bakery, are made with a mix of eggs, water, cream cheese and almond flour. While low in carbs (1 gram per slice), they are high in fat with 12 grams per slice. Kiss My Keto (5 grams of carbs per slice) has similar ingredients by using wheat gluten, eggs and oat fiber, but is more forgiving on the waistline with just 4 grams of fat per slice. Then there is ThinSlim Foods’ bread with 7 grams carbs per slice made from oat fiber, flaxseed meal and chicory root.

Another grain-free option is Base Culture’s keto bread with 8 grams carbs per slice. This brand is different from most low-carb offerings because it’s made with almond butter and almond flour.

For people looking for more of a true bread experience, Dave’s Killer Powerseed bread has slightly more carbs (12 grams of carbs per slice), but it has more health benefits than most other brands. Made from whole wheat flour, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds and sweetened with organic fruit juice, it is low in sugar and has 240 mg of omega 3 fatty acids which are a type of essential fat your body needs to carry out certain functions.

Low-carb milk alternative

You may not typically think of milk as a contributor to your daily carbohydrate intake, but an 8-ounce glass of milk has 12 grams of carbs due to the presence of sugar (lactose).

Some of the most common milk alternatives include hemp milk (0 grams carbs per glass), pea milk (0 grams of carbs), almond milk (1 grams of carbs), flax seed milk (2 grams of carbs), coconut milk (2 grams of carbs), soy milk (4 carbs) and almond milk (8 carbs). 

Each of these milk alternatives has their benefits. Hemp and flaxseed milk have omega 3 fatty acids, soy milk has potassium and almond milk has vitamin E. Walnut milk also contains omega 3 fatty acids and has a more noticeable, earthy flavor than other nut-based drinks such as almond milk or cashew milk.

Not all dairy-free milk alternatives are low in carbs, though. Rice milk and oat milk are both derived from grains, thus they are both higher in carbs and calories.

Whichever option you do choose, make sure it’s unsweetened, or you’ll negate the effect of limiting your carb intake. Nearly all unsweetened options are made the same way — by soaking nuts or seeds in water and blending them before straining.

Low-carb alternative to potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable, meaning they are high in carbs. They have little dietary fiber, so they are also high in net carbs. This will raise your blood sugar quickly.

Most root vegetables have enough starches, but also are lower in carbs, to work as a substitute for potatoes. Celery root, rutabaga, turnips and parsnips can all be roasted, boiled or mashed to serve as a heartier side dish.

Cauliflower isn’t just a substitute for rice — you can also use it in place of mashed potatoes. Simply boil the cauliflower and mash it with sour cream, and you can mimic the texture of creamy, whipped potatoes.

Low-carb chip alternatives

Potatoes, corn or enriched white flour, which are all high in carbs and high on the glycemic index, are the primary ingredient in most of the tasty snacks you can find on grocery store shelves.

If we’ve learned anything in the past few years, though, it’s that snacking doesn’t always have to be unhealthy. Whether it’s crackers or chips, various low-carb options are available to satisfy your cravings.

Made from dried and baked kale leaves, kale chips provide a light, satisfying crunch with just 7 grams of carbs per 1-ounce serving. They also contain fiber, vitamin A and vitamin K. Coconut chips are made from drying out the meat of a coconut and have 10 grams of carbs per 1-ounce serving. 

Avocados are known for their creamy consistency, but several brands have turned this superfood into a crispy snack with just 8 grams of carbs per serving. For something different, you can also try snacking on seaweed chips. A 0.35-ounce bag has 60 calories, 2 grams of carbs and 2 grams of dietary fiber.

Salty corn tortilla chips are great for dipping in salsa or guacamole, but they’re high in carbs. Alternative options include tortilla chips made from almond flour. They contain just 5 grams of carbs per 1-ounce serving.

If you prefer crackers over chips, flaxseed crackers contain 10 grams of carbs per 1-ounce serving, with 9 grams of carbs coming from dietary fiber.


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