It’s a scientific fact that carbs are everyone’s favorite food.
No really, it is.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, carbohydrates—especially fast-digesting ones—stimulate brain regions that are also associated with pleasure, reward, and addiction. Fast-digesting carbs are those that lead to a sharp spike in blood sugar and include foods like potatoes, white bread, white rice, soda, fruit juice, and corn-based products.
Related Reading: The Case Against Carbs: Valid Or Not? An Expert Weighs In
The bad news is that that eating too many of these fast-digesting carbs can put your health at risk. The good news is that you can easily swap them out in favor of whole, plant-based alternatives.
Here are five swaps you can make right now.
Carb You’re Craving: Potatoes
Instead, Have: Cauliflower
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Trader Joe’s famous Cauliflower Gnocchi, which is probably the best example of this swap done right. Instead of potatoes and white flour, this gnocchi is made with 75 percent cauliflower as well as cassava flour, potato starch, and sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil.
Cauliflower is both lower in carbs than a potato (with just 5 grams per cup of chopped, raw cauliflower, compared to 26 grams for the same amount of potato) and higher in nutrients. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed it 24th on its list of the “powerhouse fruits and vegetables” by ranking of nutrient-density.
Related Reading: All the Ways Cauliflower Can Make Your Dishes Healthier
Carb You’re Craving: White Flour
Instead, Use: Almond Flour
When it comes to “unhealthy carbs,” white flour is probably the number one offender. You can find this ingredient in packaged and processed foods, baked goods like cookies and cakes, and breads. And while it is delicious, it’s not very nutrient-dense. As Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. explained in an article on the Mayo Clinic healthy lifestyle site, “Regular white bread is made with refined grains, which go through a process that strips out certain parts of the grain—along with some of the nutrients and fiber.”
Related Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Gluten-Free Flour
In contrast, almond flour is made from nothing but blanched almonds, which means all the nutritional value of the nuts is intact. To get started, try making our Gluten-Free Cranberry-Pecan Muffins for breakfast for a boost of plant-based energy. If baked goods aren’t your thing, try journalist and cookbook author Liz Moody’s Everything Bagel Grain-Free Crackers, which are made with almond flour and ground flax seeds instead of white flour.
Carb You’re Craving: Pasta
Instead, Have: Veggie Noodles
Pasta lovers, there’s great news! You can still enjoy your favorite pasta dishes without the carbs. By swapping regular noodles made from white flour for those made from vegetables like yellow squash, beets, and zucchini noodles, you can lower the carbohydrate load of your meal and add a ton of extra nutritional benefits.
There are a couple ways to go about this; you can buy premade veggie noodles or make your own with a Spiralizer. From a classic Bolognese over yellow squash noodles to Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles, there are endless possibilities. In fact, there are entire cookbooks dedicated to cooking with veggie noodles that you can refer to for inspiration.
Spiralizer Ultimate 7 Vegetable Slicer, $32.97 from Amazon
Make any veggie noodles you please.
Related Reading: What You Need to Know About Low-Carb Palmini Noodles
Carb You’re Craving: Corn
Instead, Have: Cassava
There may not be a great substitute for corn on the cob (yet), but from Siete’s Cassava Flour Tortillas to integrative nutritionist Marie Marlow’s Coconut Cassava Tortilla Chips, this substitution is becoming more common by the day.
Despite the fact that it is, in fact, a vegetable, corn can spike your blood sugar and contribute to weight gain. In fact, a Harvard study published in 2015 found that while many vegetables were inversely associated with weight change, “corn had the opposite association in which increased intake was associated with weight gain.” This is important info to know, especially when you learn that corn is one of the most widely used cereal products in the world.
Meanwhile, cassava flour boasts an impressive nutritional profile. It’s gluten-free, paleo, and full of fiber. Cassava can be thickening due to its high fiber content, so if you’re making this swap in homemade recipes, be wary. To start experimenting with the ingredient, check out Chowhound’s 101 Guide to Cassava Flour.
Carb You’re Craving: White Rice
Instead, Have: Broccoli Rice (or Cauliflower Again!)
Rice is often touted as a great alternative to gluten-containing grains like wheat. But when it comes to glycemic index, white rice is on the list of common offenders. In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal directly linked white rice consumption to a statistically significant risk of type 2 diabetes.
Luckily, plenty of grocery stores now have broccoli rice, which is made from broccoli that’s been chopped and then run through the food processor, on their shelves. You can also make it at home from scratch.
Related Reading: Vegan Cookbooks That Will Make You Love Plant-Based Cuisine
Broccoli is chock full of antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin and with the right spices, you can use broccoli rice for virtually any rice dish. If you’re not a fan of broccoli, you can whip up some cauliflower rice instead.
It may be a fact that we all love carbs, but that doesn’t mean we’re destined for a life filled with low-nutrient, high-glycemic index meals. By making these key swaps some of the time, most of the time (or all the time!), you can cut down on your daily intake of carbs and infuse your diet with a ton of extra nutrients.
A Cauliflower Crust Pizza That’s Actually Good
Header image by Chowhound.