Smarter Carb Swaps That Will Still Satisfy All Your Cravings

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Carbs are not the enemy. 

Yes, you read that right. They’ve been villainized by low-carb diet trends (like Atkins and South Beach) for decades, making them one of the most misunderstood and hotly debated topics in nutrition right now. But, have carbs been wrongly accused?

Turns out they are an essential part of your diet, providing a major source of energy and fiber—that’s not to say that all carbs are good for you. Rather than trying to eliminate them entirely, which can leave you feeling tired and put you at risk for some nutrient deficiencies, focus on the right kinds, says Emily Navarro, RDN, Health and Wellness Manager at Freshly. That means eating less highly processed foods, common to fast foods, pastries, sweets, and soda. These foods are made with refined carbohydrates, like bleached white flour and added sugars, which have almost no nutritional value and can spike your blood sugar, making you hungrier and prone to mood swings (cue the hangry 3 p.m. lash-outs). 

Instead, Navarro recommends reaching for nutrient-dense and fiber-rich carbs from veggies, beans, whole grains, and fruits. This helps slow down your digestion, providing a steadier source of energy and keeps you full for longer. She suggests some easy ways to swap out empty calorie carbs for healthier options: 

Veggie Rice:

When it comes to rice, whole grain varieties like brown and wild rice are the typical go-tos over the standard white. But don’t stop there! Riced veggies like cauliflower and broccoli can stand in for some, or all, of the rice in a dish. At Freshly, our cauliflower-and brown-rice blend has 75% less carbs than regular rice. 

Veggie Noodles:

Spiralized veggie noodles are a super popular alternative to refined pastas right now. The craze began with “zoodles” (aka zucchini noodles) but now other veggies are hopping on the bandwagon. Some have a higher carb content than others—for instance, butternut squashbut it’s still lower in calories than traditional pasta and offers phytonutrients like beta carotene, which supports the immune system. 

Mashed Cauliflower:

Cauliflower is versatile and loaded with nutrients, making it a great, nutrient-dense, low-carb swap for traditional mashed potatoes. Cup for cup, cauliflower has about 5g of carbs compared to potatoes, which have 26g. Mashed cauliflower can be a stand-alone side or mixed with potatoes for a lighter dish. Feeling adventurous? Try other root vegetables like rutabaga, turnips, and celery root as a stand in for mashed potatoes.

Veggie Fries: 

Replacing your side of deep-fried french fries with crispy baked veggie fries will not only save you over 20g of carbs, but will also slash calories and fat. Cut veggies like zucchini, carrots, or parsnips into sticks, bread them in egg and parmesan (or swap parmesan with almond meal for a dairy-free version) and bake them or toss them into an air fryer for an even crispier version, minus the oil. For extra flavor, top with freshly chopped parsley and garnish with a spice blend like za’atar.

Kale Chips

Kale chips are hard to hate (no matter your thoughts on the polarizing veggie itself). Ounce for ounce, each provide about the same number of carbs, but kale chips also bring a bit of protein and fiberwhich help steady your blood sugarplus vitamins A, C, and calcium for more nutrition in every bite. You can buy them at grocery stores or toss kale with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes or until crisp. 

Roasted Chickpeas:

Chickpeas contain a decent amount of carbs—about 12g in ¼ cup—but they’re also full of protein, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium, iron, folate and other B vitamins, which make them a good alternative for crunchy snacks like nutrient-devoid croutons or pretzels. Roast chickpeas for a crunchy snack or use in place of croutons on salads. 

A few Freshly meals that feature nutrient-dense carbs instead of highly processed starch: Cauliflower-Shell Bolognese, Turkey Meatballs and ZoodlesHomestyle Chicken with Butternut Mac & CheeseChile Rojo Pork, Wild-Caught Mahi with Mango Salsa, and Country Chicken & Mash Bowl.