Pasta, bread and rice are popular foods but most of them contain simple sugars. Try these delicious carbohydrate substitutes instead.
Giving up foods like pasta, bread and rice may sound like torture but there are tasty carb alternatives to satisfy your cravings. Many of the low carb substitutes in this guide are easy to find at the shops, easy to prepare, and good for your gut microbes. So rather than going keto or carnivore (which isn’t great for your body either), try these simple workarounds.
Table of contents
- Low carb pasta alternatives
- Spiralised veggies
- Shirataki noodles
- Aubergine lasagne sheets
- Low carb bread alternatives
- Lettuce wraps
- Chickpea pancakes
- Ezekiel bread
- Sourdough bread
- Low carb rice alternatives
- Cauliflower rice
- Celeriac couscous
Together with proteins and fats, carbs make up the three macronutrients in the human diet. Made up of sugars, starches and fibres, they provide the body with energy. Most are broken down into a simple sugar called glucose but some are turned into fat and stored for later use.
Even though you need carbs for energy, this macronutrient is controversial, especially since refined carbohydrates are associated with higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Other people choose low-carb foods to avoid bloating and lose weight or because they are gluten-intolerant.
Low carb pasta alternatives
Pasta is versatile but it can be heavy, high in carbs and unsuitable if you are gluten intolerant. Low-carb alternatives mean you don’t have to give up your favourite dishes.
Pasta and noodles are staple foods in many cuisines but for anyone diagnosed with celiac disease or is simply carb-conscious, it isn’t a sensible food choice. However, it’s often a base for many dishes and it may be difficult to give up your favourite meals.
There are plenty of pasta alternatives available which are low in carbs, gluten-free and can have many other health benefits like keeping your gut bacteria nourished. Don’t worry these alternatives to pasta are not tasteless or boring. Instead, they are flavoursome, healthy and colourful.
If you’re looking to impress with your culinary skills or just want a hearty alternative to spaghetti or noodles, then spiralised vegetables are for you. They’re also a great way to pack more veg into your diet, making these colourful noodles perfect for kids, too!
This pasta substitute also has health benefits because adding vegetables to the diet can lower the risk of chronic disease. Lots of research shows that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes type II. Plus, they can help with weight loss goals too.
Cucumbers, courgettes, carrots and turnips are all suitable for spiralising. Many supermarkets now sell pre-packaged options but investing in a spiraliser means you can make your own. They can be eaten warm or cold. If you like them warm, boil them for no longer than 5 minutes to preserve their crunch.
☝TIP☝Leave the skin on spiralised vegetables because that is where most of the nutrients and fiber your body needs are stored.
The fibre content of these noodles is important. Not only does it help to keep you fuller for longer but it nourishes your gut bacteria, too. By breaking down fibre, gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids which have many health benefits. Glucomannan also promotes the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus helping to keep your gut microbiome diverse.
Shirataki noodles are a low carb alternative to pasta but the initial smell can put you off. They’re packaged in plain water but it can smell quite fishy as it absorbs the konjac root odour. Rinsing them well under running water for a few minutes should help.
☝TIP☝Use miracle noodles instead of pasta in your favourite dishes like mac n’ cheese. Alternatively, they work well in Asian-style meals, too.
Aubergine lasagne sheets
If you’ve ever found lasagne a little heavy but can’t resist this traditional Italian dish, aubergine (or eggplant) slices make a great alternative to pasta sheets. Oh, and did we mention they’re better for you too?
Aubergines are full of fibre and nutrients. Their deep purple skin comes from an antioxidant called nasunin which is known to protect the fat found in brain cell membranes. So aubergines taste delicious but also keep you healthy.
Nutrients present in aubergines
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Replacing carbs in lasagne is easy with aubergine sheets. Simply, cut the aubergine lengthways (leave the skin on) or use a mandolin to slice them very fine. Brush each side with a little vegetable oil and roast until both sides are soft and golden. Use them in the same way as you would traditional pasta sheets. Beautiful!
Low carb bread alternatives
Bread is a go-to for many people. Sadly, store-bought sliced bread is high in refined carbs, and we can’t all eat or bake sourdough every day.
Bread can be hard to replace. Luckily, there are some cool alternatives available that don’t have a “gluten-free” label. Some are so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of them yourself, while others may take a little mastering if you’re preparing to have a go at making them.
Quintessentially Scottish, oatcakes are a simple yet wholesome substitute for bread. Similar to a cracker, flatbread or scone, they can be enjoyed with sweet or savoury toppings. Just as they’re name suggests these bannocks (as they are known in Scotland) are made with oats.
Oats are a perfect low carb bread alternative and they can be pretty simple to make using ingredients you’ll probably have in your cupboard already. Enjoy them with cheese and chutney, smoked salmon and cultured sour cream, or peanut butter and bananas.
☝FACT☝Oats have cholesterol-lowering properties as they contain a type of fibre called beta-glucan.
Perfect for a sweet or savoury tooth, chickpea pancakes are great as a low carb bread substitute. They’re also ideal for vegans. Plus, they’re gluten-free, making them a fantastic all-rounder, any time of the day.
- providing energy for colonocytes
- preventing leaky gut
- regulating the pH of the gut
- regulating appetite
- preventing inflammation
- protecting against opportunistic pathogens
- regulating the immune system
Chickpea pancakes are seriously easy to make yourself. All you need is chickpea flour, oil, salt and water. Then you just mix, wait 30 minutes and cook like pancakes. Then you can fill them with whatever culinary delights you fancy.
Ezekiel bread is believed to be a good example of healthy bread. It’s made from various sprouted grains and legumes like barley, lentil, millet, wheat and soybeans. So, compared to white bread, the Ezekiel variety is healthy, nutritious and fibre-rich.
Because the grains are allowed to sprout before they are processed, the bread is easy to digest and contains fewer antinutrients. These are substances which can prevent the absorption of important vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Ezekiel bread is available to buy in some bakeries and health-food shops but it can be homemade, too. That is, of course, if you have the time and the patience for breadmaking. Ezekiel bread contains no added sugar so it’s ideal if you’re controlling diabetes but it isn’t gluten-free.
Sourdough bread is made from fermented grains. Because of the fermentation process, sourdough bread doesn’t need commercial yeasts to make it rise. Instead, it relies on a fermented culture to act as a leavening agent consisting of wild yeasts and bacteria.
The starter used to produce sourdough bread contains gut-friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus. They produce lactic acid which gives sourdough its distinctive sour taste and prevents spoilage. However, the baking process kills the probiotics, so the end product no longer contains them.
☝FACT☝Although probiotics do not survive in the baking of sourdough bread, it does have prebiotic qualities which help to promote diversity in the gut microbiome.
Yes, you guessed it – swap a tortilla wrap or a boring carb-heavy white bread sandwich for a lettuce wrap. Big leaves like those of romaine lettuce are perfect for moulding into a delicious wrap loaded with your favourite lunch ingredients.
Choose colourful lettuce for a low-calorie, nutrient-dense option with vitamins C and K, calcium and potassium. Plus, it has a high-water content so it will help keep you hydrated, too. Compared to bread, lettuce is much lower in calories, fresh and full of flavour.
The key to using lettuce as a low carb alternative to bread is to get creative. There are plenty of things you can make such as tacos, fajitas and even burgers. You can fill them with your favourite meat and veggie combos for a delicious lunch or dinner alternative.
TIP Avoid iceberg lettuce. It has no flavour and very little nutritional value either. Choose dark green and red lettuce for the flavour and health attributes.
Low carb rice alternatives
Rice is a staple in many cuisines across the world but isn’t suitable for everyone’s dietary needs. So, being a little creative means you can swap traditional rice for healthier versions.
Rice is a base in many dishes but it can be high in carbohydrates and calories. So, if you’re trying to restrict either of these, you’ll be keen to find a low carb rice substitute which doesn’t impact on the flavour and texture you’re used to.
Cauliflower rice has taken the food world by storm, you’ve probably seen it packaged in the fresh or frozen aisles of your local supermarket. Simply made from cauliflower, this carbohydrate replacement rice has a mild flavour and similar texture to the real thing.
Compared to rice, the cauliflower version is high in fibre. Eating lots of fibre helps to reduce the risk of digestive issues including constipation and chronic illnesses like colon cancer. And, of course, your gut microbes love it, too!
Making cauliflower rice is easy. You can either blitz a cauliflower head (cut into quarters) in a blender or simply grate it. You don’t just have to stick to cauliflower either, broccoli can provide a colourful and nutritious low carb alternative to rice as well.
Celeriac isn’t the prettiest of vegetables but it has a distinct nutty, celery-like flavour that packs a wholesome punch. Celeriac is a root vegetable that originally comes from the Mediterranean and is related to celery and parsnips. It can be enjoyed either raw or cooked.
Celeriac has a higher carbohydrate content than cauliflower but is packed with nutrients particularly phosphorus, vitamin C and B6. It’s also rich in antioxidants which help to protect you against oxidative stress and disease.
Raw, celeriac can be quite tough, after all, it is hardy root veg. If you’re considering preparing celeriac couscous yourself, you may want to invest in a food processor which will do all the hard work for you.
It can be difficult to look beyond the traditional bread, pasta and rice type foods that form the basis of many meals throughout the world but there are many low carb alternatives available which are more nutritious and even tastier.
Spiralised veg is a great substitute for pasta while there are many foods which serve well as a low carb bread replacement including chickpea pancakes, oatcakes and sourdough bread. While cauliflower can make a convincing rice alternative.
The great thing about these examples is they are nutritionally better quality than the high carb pasta and bread you may be used to. Plus, the carbohydrate content can cause unpleasant side effects like bloating whereas the alternatives in this guide can help to nourish your gut microbes and promote good digestive health.
☝FACT☝You can find out the composition of your gut microbiome using the Atlas Microbiome Test
- Andoh, A et al. Role of Dietary Fiber and Short-Chain Fatty Acids in the Colon, 2003
- Bazzano, L, A et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in US Adults: the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study, 2002
- Bell, V et al. One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota, 2018
- Connolly, M, L et al. Wholegrain Oat-Based Cereals Have Prebiotic Potential and Low Glycaemic Index, 2012
- Connolly, M, L et al. Konjac Glucomannan Hydrolysate Beneficially Modulates Bacterial Composition and Acyivity Within Fecal Microbiota, 2010
- Lewin, J. The Health Benefits of Aubergines, 2018
- Van den Abbeele et al. Different Oat Ingredients Stimulate Specific Microbial Metabolites in the Gut Microbiome of Three Human Individuals in Vitro, 2018
- Venegas, D, P et al. Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) – Mediated Gut Epithelial and Immune Regulation and Its Relevance for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 2019