Low-Carb Food Options

Spaghetti squash is not only low in carbs, but much richer in nutrients compared to pasta.
Carolyn J Thompson
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One of the most challenging aspects of eating low-carb is cutting back on foods you enjoy—many of which have likely become a regular part of your diet. Coping with carb loss can be tough, but there are many satisfying and tasty low-carb substitutes you can choose instead of their high carbohydrate counterparts.

Whether you are adopting a temporary low-carb eating style or looking to make a permanent lifestyle change, these low-carb swaps for popular foods can help you make choices that better align with your dietary goals.

Bread

Challah bread
Challah bread. Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Bread has long been a dietary staple around the world, but most of us aren’t making our daily loaf from scratch. Some popular sliced bread that you buy at the store may be high in carbohydrates and can contain additives such as sugar and preservatives that extend shelf life. In addition, breads that are not made with whole grains can be lacking in certain vitamins (if they have not been fortified) and fiber.

Sample Carb Counts in Bread

  • Gluten-free brown rice bread (15 grams)
  • Commercially-produced white bread (15 grams or more)
  • 23-grain bread (19 grams)
  • Cinnamon raisin bread (18 grams)
  • Challah (35 grams)

Low-Carb Substitutes

  • If you want to reduce or cut out bread, you’ll have plenty of versatile alternatives to a standard white loaf to choose from. Many well-known brands have low-carb sliced bread, pita bread, hamburger buns, and tortilla options. The number of carbs will depend on the serving size and ingredients, so check the ingredients list and other nutrition information. Some options can have added sugar or negligible nutritional value.
  • Keto Thin bread (1 gram)
  • Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted 7-Grain Bread (11 grams)
  • Dave's Killer Bread Thin Slice Powerseed (12 grams)
  • Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread (15 grams)

There are also other low carb bread alternatives such as cauliflower flats or flax wraps. You can even learn how to make bread at home. Whether you like sweet or savory, there are several tasty and nutritious lower-carb options you can try, including:

If you’re also hoping to keep your blood sugar under control, there are low Glycemic Index (GI) bread options. However, these types of bread may be quite different from what you’re used to in terms of taste and texture: low-GI bread tends to be extremely heavy and is often made with sprouted grains.

While low-GI bread might take some getting used to, if you’re trying to watch your carbs, the swap is worth it. Most of the time the carbohydrates in low-GI index bread consist largely of fiber which takes longer to bread down and won't raise blood sugar as quickly as breads made with refined flours.

Pasta

Pasta is often one of the hardest dishes for people to cut back on when they’re switching to a low-carb way of eating, but there are many options to recreate the experience.

Pasta noodles are often really more a vehicle for sauces and toppings, so replacing the carbohydrate-laden base with something else is one of the easiest ways to make your favorite dish low-carb friendly. Many of these alternatives take just as well to a marinara sauce or a simple tossing in olive oil and parmesan as traditional pasta.

Popular High-Carb Options

The following carbohydrate counts are provided by the USDA for a 100-gram (about 1/2 cup) serving of each cooked food.

  • Cheese ravioli (21.6g)
  • Gluten-free corn pasta (27.9g)
  • Gnocchi (17g)
  • Lasagna, meatless (13.8 grams)
  • Macaroni and cheese (23.1g)
  • Pasta (no sauce), including spaghetti or fettuccine (30.7)
  • Whole grain pasta (29.9g)

Low-Carb Substitutes

There are several alternatives to traditional pasta if you are interesting in cutting carbs. Many of these products are offered by specific brands so the serving size may vary slightly.

  • Shirataki noodles by Miracle Noodle (1g carbs per 3-ounce serving)
  • Zucchini spiral noodles (3g carbs per 2.7 ounce serving)
  • Spaghetti squash (4.9g carbs per 78g or approximately 3 ounce serving)

When you have a pasta craving that the alternatives just don't satisfy, choose low-carb pasta noodles or traditional pasta that's 100 percent whole grain.

Cook your pasta al dente (still slightly firm to the bite). Preparing the noodles this way makes it slightly less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar.

As long as you keep an eye on your portion size, a small serving of traditional pasta won’t disrupt a moderate-carb diet.

Cereal

Most of the boxes you’ll find in the cereal aisle are heavily processed and invariably have a high glycemic index. While you may be able to find some low-carb breakfast cereals at co-ops, specialty grocery stores, and online, read nutrition labels carefully to check the product’s total carbs.

Popular High-Carb Options

Listed below are the carb counts for popular cereals without milk. Serving sizes vary—note that a one cup serving can range from 40 grams to over 100 grams if the cereal is more dense.

  • Honey Bunches of Oats, Honey Roasted (32.5g per one-cup or 40-gram serving)
  • Kashi GOLEAN (34.9g per one-cup or 52-gram serving)
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch (31.2 grams per one-cup or 40g serving)
  • Frosted Flakes (36.6g per one-cup or 41g serving)
  • Golden Grahams (34g per one-cup or 40-gram serving)
  • Raisin Bran (47.1g per one-cup or 61-gram serving)
  • Frosted Mini Wheats (44.2g per one-cup or 53-gram serving)
  • Post Grape Nuts (93.4g per one-cup or 116-gram serving)
  • Kellogg's Low-Fat Granola (72.3g per one-cup or 98-gram serving)

Low-Carb Substitutes

If you are following a low-carb diet carefully due to personal or medical reasons, you may want to make your own cereal instead. Or you can try a whole grain hot or cold cereal. Grains such as oatmeal or quinoa can make a high fiber, higher protein option. In addition to having more control over the carb count and other nutrition content, you’ll know exactly which ingredients are used and how much, plus you’ll be able to dole out portions in line with your plan.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a starchy vegetable that contain nutrients, such as potassium, fiber (if eaten with the skin), vitamin C, vitamin B6. If you are eating a low carbohydrate meal plan, you will likely need to monitor your serving of potatoes since they are a rich source of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate Counts in Potatoes

Listed below are the carb counts for different types of potatoes and potato dishes. Note that the serving size can vary substantially.

  • Baked sweet potato with peel, no fat added (32.7g per medium 150-gram potato)
  • Small red potatoes, roasted (32.7g per one-cup or 160-gram serving)
  • Mashed potato (25.9g per potato or about a 147-gram serving)
  • Baked white potato (49.3g per small baked potato weighing 230 grams)
  • Hash browns (45.2g per one-cup, 160-gram serving)
  • French fries (11.1g per one-cup, 60-gram serving)

Low-Carb Substitutes

Rice

Rice is a staple in many food cultures, but if you are following a low carbohydrate diet, the type and portion of rice you eat will be important in keeping your carbohydrate goals in check. Typically longer grain rice will have a lower glycemic index (meaning it will raise blood sugar more slowly) per portion than shorter grain rice and brown rice and wild rice have more fiber than traditional white rice.

Popular High-Carb Options

Carbohydrate counts for rice can vary based on the type of rice. Use the information below for different types of cooked rice or check the nutrition facts label on the brand that you buy to get details.

  • Jasmine rice (46g of carbs per cup or 142 grams)
  • Fried rice without meat (54g per one cup or 156 grams)
  • White rice (44.2g per cup or 158 grams)
  • Brown rice (49.6g per cup or 195 grams)
  • Rice pilaf (49.6g per cup or 206 grams)

Low-Carb Substitutes

There are a few alternatives to rice if you are looking to cut carbs. Note that serving sizes provided by manufacturers and government sources vary.

  • Shirataki rice (2.68g of carbs per 100-gram serving or about 1/2 cup)
  • Cauliflower rice (4.7g per 100-gram serving or about 1/2 cup)

Milk

Milk contains carbohydrates in the form of lactose. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid milk—its nutritional benefits far outweigh the consequences—just pay close attention to your intake.

Carb Counts in Milk

  • Whole buttermilk (11.9g per one-cup or 244-gram serving)
  • Whole milk (11.4g per one-cup or 244-gram serving)
  • Lowfat milk, 1% (12.7g per one-cup or 246-gram serving)
  • Whole evaporated milk (25.3g per one-cup or 252-gram serving)
  • Nonfat evaporated milk (28.6g per one-cup or 252-gram serving)

While a cup of heavy cream (6.8g of carbs) or half and half (10.3g of carbs) would also contribute carbs, a typical serving is far less than a cup. Mixing creamer into your morning coffee, for example, would only warrant a tablespoon.

Low-Carb Substitutes

  • Coconut milk (7.1g per one-cup or 244g serving)
  • Unsweetened almond milk (3.2g per one-cup or 244g serving)
  • Soymilk, unsweetened (4g per one-cup or 243g serving)
  • Lactose-free milk (11.4g per one-cup or 244g serving)

Some yogurts have far less lactose than the milk they're made with. Not only are these options suitable for a low-carb diet, the fermented varieties like kefir are also especially good for your digestion. Also, Greek yogurt is strained and some of the lactose has been removed making it a lower carbohydrate option.

Sweets and Desserts

In moderation, allowing yourself the occasional sweet and your favorite dessert is part of a balanced diet. That being said, there are many treats that will satisfy your sweet tooth and fit into your low-carb diet.

Popular High-Carb Options

  • 1 medium chocolate chip cookie (9 gram)
  • 2-inch chocolate brownie (12 grams)
  • 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream (16 grams)
  • 1 ounce of dark chocolate (17 grams)
  • 1/2 cup of egg custard with whole milk (25 grams)
  • Store-bought bread pudding (48 grams)
  • 1 slice of pecan pie (55 grams)

Low-Carb Substitutes

Keep in mind that while artificial sweeteners can technically fit into a low-carb eating plan, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of. Reaching for low-sugar fruit will give you the sweet taste you crave without adding extra sugar, fat, or calories.

  • Apricots (3.9g per 35-gram fruit)
  • Guava (7.9g per 55-gram fruit)

You can also try these low-carb recipes for sweet treats:

When what you really want is a bite of your favorite dessert in its full-fat, real-sugar form, you don’t need to completely deny yourself the occasional treat. Just be mindful of your portion size and save the indulgence for special occasions rather than letting these foods become part of your regular diet.

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Article Sources
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