Low-Carb Substitutes for High-Carb Foods

Finding foods with less impact on blood sugar

spaghetti squash
Spaghetti squash is not only low in carbs, but much richer in nutrients compared to pasta. Photo © Carolyn J Thompson

Are you new to low-carb eating? Or perhaps you just want to give a new look. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of changing our diets is cutting down on foods we've come to rely on as part of our regular eating routines. Here are some ideas for lower-carb substitutes for high-carb foods. You also might want to check out this article about coping with carb loss.


It's been called the "staff of life," and many people think they can't live without it. But really -- isn't it what goes ON the bread that is usually tasty? Why not just put the filling on a salad? No? Well, there are some alternatives, but you sometimes have to look pretty hard. They include:

  • Special low-carb breads (but read the labels carefully, and note carbohydrate counts)
  • Low-carb tortillas (these is a favorite of many low-carbers)
  • High-fiber "crisp breads" such as GG Bran Crispbread
  • Flax meal bread recipe (very "hearty" bread)
  • I like to make my basic muffins in muffin-top pans or (harder-to-find) similar but deeper pans. I only use a tiny bit of sweetener. I can then split the muffins and toast, or use for sandwiches.

Also, there are breads which are less glycemic -- that is, they aren't converted to sugar as quickly in our bodies. These breads are usually very heavy, with pieces of grains in them, or are made from sprouted grains like in Ezekiel® bread.

Basically, the finer the wheat is ground, the easier it will be for your body to convert it to sugar. Whole wheat breads made from finely ground flour raise blood sugar just as much as white bread.


Many alternatives for pasta are available, which are lower in carbohydrate.

If you get 100% whole grain pasta and cook it al dente (still slightly firm, the way Italians do), the pasta will be less glycemic. A small serving of this will work on a moderate-carb diet. Note that as part of a meal in Italy, pasta portions are small.


Cereals are usually processed so much that the carbohydrates are very glycemic. There are low-carb packaged cold cereals, but not many. A few high-fiber cereals are good bets, but popular brands in the grocery store change frequently, so read labels carefully.You can also make your own low-carb cereal substitutes, such as:


Among whole unprocessed foods, potatoes have the distinction of shooting blood sugar up faster and farther than any other. The starch in potatoes is essentially long strings of glucose (as is most starch). Although there isn't a perfect substitute for potatoes, some other vegetables can work well:

    Also, there is a commercial product called Carb Counter Instant Mashers, which can be used like instant mashed potatoes. I like to mix it in with the cauliflower or celery root, and it has a lot of other uses as well.


    I like "cauli-rice," and time and again people are shocked at how the mild flavor of Celery root (celeriac) can be used in a similar way. Although it is higher in carbohydrate than cauliflower, it is still much lower in carbs than rice. I have also heard of people using TVP as a substitute for rice.


    There are commercial low-carb crackers (such as Andre's Carbo-Save) which you can find online, but they are all fairly expensive.

    Other possible vehicles for cheeses and dips are mushrooms, celery, cucumber slices, jicama, and other vegetables.

    Beans and Other Legumes

    Beans have a fair amount of carbohydrate, although it is generally digested more slowly. Still, the more processed they are, the more rapidly the carbs will affect blood sugar. Even canned beans are more glycemic than beans you cook yourself.

    Soy beans are lower in carbohydrate than other beans. Black soy beans don't taste "soybeany" and are great in most bean recipes.


    Nuts and seeds can be ground into meal/flour, or purchased that way. They require different recipes but can be used for cakes, muffins, quick breads, and other recipes. Examples:


    Pizza is a food group, isn't it?


    Milk has some carbs in the form of lactose, which is supposedly less glycemic than other sugars. People who test their blood glucose have varied reactions to it.

    Substitutes for milk include coconut milk, unsweetened soy milk or unsweetened almond milk. Here are the carb counts of dairy products and substitutes.

    Also, if you choose carefully, yogurt can have less lactose than the milk it's made, from, so yogurt can be an excellent choice on a low-carb diet.

    Sweet Stuff

    The bad news: With the exception of a few low-sugar fruits, and artificially-sweetened products, if it's sweet, you can bet it has a lot of carbohydrates. So you have to make a decision about artificial sweeteners such as Splenda or Equal. Some people find that eating or drinking sweet things makes them crave more sweet foods, and others don't. Although food additives such as artificial sweeteners aren't the height of nutrition, many whose bodies don't do well with sugar feel that artificial sweeteners are a decent alternative, in moderation. The good news is that with the use of sugar substitutes, you can make a variety of sweet low-carb treats.

    Warning Notes: The powder in powdered artificial sweeteners is usually some type of sugar, so it has carbohydrates. Liquid forms are usually zero carbohydrates.

    Sugar alcohols such as maltitol can be a problem for a lot of low-carb dieters. Erythritol and xylitol are the only ones I really recommend. Maltitol, which is the most common, is also, in my opinion, the worst one, is even worse than sugar in some ways, and as bad in others.

    Jams and Jellies

    Use sugar-free jams, or use fresh fruit that is low in sugars.


    If you look hard, you can sometimes find sugar-free candies without maltitol, but they do go on and off the market quickly. One brand out right now is ChocoPerfection Bars.

    Other Desserts

    Dixie Carb Counter makes some low-carb mixes, such as cakes and brownies.