Carbohydrates are essential macronutrients that give our bodies energy. However, many foods that are high in carbohydrates, like pastas, potatoes, and rice, also tend to be higher in calories. One easy way to enjoy your favorite foods without sacrificing health goals is to swap higher-calorie ingredients for low-calorie veggies.

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Benefits of Replacing Carbohydrates With Veggies

  • You’ll feel fuller, longer. Replacing high-carb choices with low-calorie veggies is one way to reap the benefits of eating “volume foods” — or foods that naturally satiate hunger. Many low-calorie veggie substitutes, like broccoli, for example, contain high amounts of fiber and/or water, providing bulk and slowing digestion to keep you fuller, longer.

  • You’ll cut down on carbs and calories. Veggie alternatives like zucchini, squash, cauliflower, and other carb replacements are naturally low in calories. That’s why opting for lighter vegetables over starchy potatoes or pastas may help you cut calories and reach weight loss goals. Eating lower-carb veggies also is an effective way to stick to a low-carb diet.

  • You may consume more essential nutrients. Switching to low-calorie, veggie-based alternatives may significantly boost your vitamin and mineral intake. When you choose a lettuce wrap over a traditional white bun for your burger, for example, you’re replacing high-carb, empty calories with vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, and other essential nutrients.

6 Carb-Replacement Recipes

If you’re counting calories or trying to eat fewer carbs, here are six easy ways to use low-calorie veggies as carb replacements:

  1. Mashed potatoes — Mashed potatoes are a classic side dish at family get-togethers and holidays. Unfortunately, along with potatoes, most traditional recipes call for large quantities of butter, cream, and other high-fat ingredients. For a healthy take on this comfort dish, swap potatoes for low-calorie cauliflower in this recipe for roasted garlic and ricotta mashed cauliflower.

  2. Pastas and noodles Pasta dishes are classic comfort foods that can also pack a hefty amount of calories in just one serving. Luckily, there are several ways to continue enjoying familiar Italian flavors while sticking to your daily calorie goal. Swap pasta for spaghetti squash in this chicken basil spaghetti squash recipe. Or, enjoy the classic taste of pesto without any of the guilt by testing out this recipe for zucchini noodles with pesto sauce.

  3. Pizza crusts — From childhood to adulthood, pizza is a beloved treat enjoyed by all ages. But even one slice of traditional pizza can cost you hundreds of calories. Cauliflower pizza crust is one simple way to slash calories with a veggie alternative to traditional wheat crust — plus, it’s gluten-free, low-carb, and delicious! This recipe for cheesy, garlicky, and low-fat cauliflower pizza crust comes together quickly and satisfies those weeknight pizza cravings.

  4. Rice Available in a wide variety, rice is a staple side dish in several cuisines. And though rice does offer some health benefits, it may not be the best option for those monitoring their carb intake. Most grocery stores now offer an alternative — tender “grains” of riced cauliflower or broccoli. Both versions can easily be made at home, too. Simply cut a head of broccoli or cauliflower into small florets and, in batches, pulse in a food processor until it resembles the texture of rice. Dress it up with your favorite seasonings, and saute until tender or enjoy it raw.

  5. Fries, chips, and tots From broccoli tots to apple chips and zucchini fries, there are numerous ways to manipulate traditionally fried, potato-based comfort foods. One lesser-known, but equally delicious, alternative ingredient is the jicama plant. Jicama is a root vegetable that can be peeled, sliced, and tossed into salads or salsas for a hefty dose of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. And at only 50 calories for a one-cup serving, jicama is lower in calories and carbohydrates than most potato varieties. Try making jicama fries by peeling and cutting jicama into 1/4-inch slices. Toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, and your favorite seasonings and roast at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until tender and crisp, flipping halfway through cooking time.

  6. Desserts Impossible though it may seem, you can satisfy your sweet tooth, reach your calorie goal, and enjoy the health benefits of vegetables all at the same time. One example is this recipe for no-bake black bean brownie pops, which calls for black beans, maple syrup, and nut butter to replace flour, butter, and sugar in a traditional brownie recipe.

To learn more about nutrition services at UPMC, visit our website or call 412-647-8762. If you have a nutrition-related question, email to connect with a UPMC dietitian.

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to