Six creative ways to swap out your carbs

One easy way to reduce the total amount of starches you consume in a day is to substitute in non-starchy veggies, says Tanja Shaw.

There are healthy and imaginative alternatives to a high-carb diet.

Carbs get so much attention when it comes to nutrition conversations these days.  Are carbs good or bad?  Which carbs are good?  Is sugar bad for me?

First, I encourage you to remove all moral implications behind the foods you eat.  Food is food.  Eating pasta and bread, or eating ‘too much’ doesn’t mean you’ve ‘been bad’.

Carbs are an essential part of our diet and  provide our body with energy.  On the other hand, our bodies were not design to handle so much readily available carbs as seen in the standard North American diet, and really, so much food in general.   One easy way to reduce the total amount of starches you consume in a day is to substitute in non-starchy veggies.

There are a few reasons you may benefit from making some simple swaps:

Increased Energy: Have you ever experience the 2 or 3 p.m. slump?  Your brain is foggy, and all you can think about is getting a fancy coffee or granola bar to get you over the hump.  This dip in energy often happens when your blood sugar levels dip; the after effects of a high carbohydrate meal.

Increased nutrition from veggies: When you swap your bread for more veggies, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of foods that are rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre.  While whole, unprocessed grains and starchy veggies are also full of important nutrients, most people struggle to get their 5-10 servings of veggies in a day.  Note that vegetables are primarily carbohydrates.  Broccoli is 64% carbohydrate, cabbage is 85% carbohydrate and carrots are 92% carbohydrate.  So even if you decide to lower your starches or go grain free, you can meet your carbohydrate needs from veggies alone.

You’ll consume fewer calories: While there’s more to nutrition and weight loss than ‘eat less’ and ‘move more’, eating too much food will still show up on your waistline.  Substituting starches for non-starchy veggies is a great way to reduce the total amount of food you eat in a day without feeling deprived.

More fibre: Veggies are full of fibre.  Fibre aids in digestion, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Most North Americans don’t get enough fibre.  Eating more veggies can help!

Here are six substitutions for what most people think of when they think ‘carbs’.

1. Lettuce Wraps

Large lettuce leaves make a fantastic alternative to wraps and buns.  Use lettuce to wrap up your hamburger (with all the fixin’s!), or to hold your taco and fajita mix.

2. Cabbage

Shred, or finely chop green cabbage.  Sautee in a bit of coconut oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Use as a base for meats or other sauces.  My personal favourite is avocado, cabbage and sausage.   Fry up a sausage with shredded cabbage.  In another bowl, mash ¼ to a 1/3 of an avocado.  Transfer the sausage and cabbage into the bowl and mix it altogether.

3. Zucchini

Use a spirlaizer or mandolin to make zucchini noodles, and place in a strainer over a bowl or over the sink.  Sprinkle a bit of salt on over the zucchini and toss.  Let it sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the liquid to drain.  Then, wrap the zucchini in a paper towel and squeeze out some of the excess water.  Next, fry the zucchini in a wok in a fat that is suitable for high heats (such as coconut oil or ghee), or enjoy raw.  Blend together an avocado, few tbsp. of coconut milk, lemon juice and parsley to make a delicious, creamy ‘pasta’ sauce.

4. Spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti squash is another delicious alternative to regular pasta.  1 cup of roasted spaghetti squash has 42 calories and 2 grams of fibre.  Spaghetti squash is also a good source in vitamin B3, vitamin B6, potassium, and vitamin C.

To roast, cut the squash in half, length wise.  Leave the pulp and seeds in; it’s much easier to take it out when the squash is cooked.  Place flesh side down on a baking sheet in about ½ inch of water.  Roast for about 45 minutes at 350F.  Exact roasting time will depend on the size of the squash.  The skin should yield to pressure (test with a fork… it’ll be hot!).  Remove from the oven and let it cool.  Once it’s cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  Use a fork to shred the flesh into ‘noodles’.

5. Green salad

This suggestion may be a bit ‘outside of the box’, but salad can make a great bed for your warm sauces, such as pasta sauce, taco filings, and stew. Experiment with this one: not everyone will enjoy a warm salad as much as I do.  But, it is worth a try. If nothing else, serve up a large green salad with plenty of veggies and healthy fats as a main on your dinner plate.

6. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is an extremely versatile vegetable: it makes a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes and rice.  You can get more creative and use it to make pizza crust, mac and cheese, or a vegan cheese sauce.  To make mashed cauliflower, cut up a head of cauliflower into small chunks and steam it.  Once cooked, transfer to a food processor.  Add you preferred ingredients (I love roasted garlic, almond milk, butter, salt), and process it until smooth.  To make cauliflower ‘rice’, you’ll also need your food processor.  Cut up the head of cauliflower into small chunks, and blend it in the food processor (raw) until it looks like rice.  Fry in a large pan until cooked.  You can serve as is, or mix it into salads, dishes like Jambalaya, or fried rice.  It’s also a great base for this spicy skillet.

There you have it: 6 ways you can reduce your overall carbohydrate intake up your veggie consumption and enjoy delicious food!  What’s your favourite substitution?  Send me an email: to share!


Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness Inc. and host of the Fit & Vibrant You Podcast. Tanja and her team of expert fitness coaches inspire and coach others to become stronger, more confident and energetic versions of themselves.  Visit Tanja  at and



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