Carbohydrates are essential macronutrients. However, many foods that are high in carbohydrates, like pastas, potatoes, and rice tend to be higher in calories. Try enjoying your favorite foods with these lower-calorie swaps.

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Benefits of Replacing Carbohydrates With Veggies

  • You’ll feel fuller, longer. Many low-calorie veggie substitutes, like broccoli, 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 and cauliflower 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.
  • You may consume more essential nutrients. For example, when you choose a lettuce wrap over a traditional white bun for your burger, you’re replacing high-carb, empty calories with vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, and other essential nutrients.

6 Carb-Replacement Recipes

  1. Mashed potatoes —  For a healthier take on this comfort side dish, swap potatoes for low-calorie cauliflower in this recipe for roasted garlic and ricotta mashed cauliflower.
  2. Pastas and noodles 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 —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 satisfies those weeknight pizza cravings.
  4. Rice  Most grocery stores now offer 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  There are numerous ways to manipulate traditionally fried, potato-based comfort foods. One alternative 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. 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  Try 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.

Smart Low-Calorie Swaps

  • Instead of…Whole Milk (8 oz. = 150 calories)
    • Choose…Skim Milk (8 oz. = 90 calories)
  • Instead of…Orange Juice (8 oz. = 120 calories)
    • Choose…Medium Orange (1 fruit = 70 calories)
  • Instead of…Shredded [Full-Fat] Cheese (¼ cup = 120 calories)
    • Choose…Shredded Part-Skim Cheese (¼ cup = 80 calories)
  • Instead of…Sour Cream (¼ cup = 111 calories)
    • Choose…Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt (¼ cup = 36 calories)
  • Instead of…Vegetable Oil (½ cup = 980 calories)
    • Choose…Unsweetened Applesauce (½ cup = 50 calories)
  • Instead of…1 Egg (70 calories)
    • Choose…2 Egg Whites (50 calories)
  • Instead of…Mayonnaise (2 tablespoons = 240 calories)
    • Choose…Mustard (2 tablespoons = 30 calories)
  • Instead of…80% Lean Ground Beef (3 oz. cooked = 215 calories)
    • Choose…Bison or Ground Turkey (3 oz. cooked = 125 calories)
  • Instead of…Pork Shoulder (3 oz. cooked = 230 calories)
    • Choose…Pork Tenderloin (3 oz. cooked = 122 calories)
  • Instead of…Chicken Thigh with Skin (3.5 oz. cooked = 230 calories)
    • Choose…Skinless Chicken Breast (3.5 oz. cooked = 165 calories)
  • Instead of…Butter [To Grease a Pan] (1 tablespoon = 100 calories)
    • Choose…Nonstick Cooking Spray (¼ second spray = 0 calories)
  • Instead of…Sugar [In Baking] (½ cup = 360 calories)
    • Choose…Half Sugar + Half Sugar Substitute (½ cup = 200 calories)
  • Instead of…Cream-Based Soup (1 cup = 180-220 calories)
    • Choose…Broth-Based Soup (1 cup = 80-120 calories)
  • Instead of…Macaroni or Potato Salad (½ cup = 260-390 calories)
    • Choose…Three-Bean Salad (½ cup = 95 calories)
  • Instead of…Pork Bacon (2 slices = 120 calories)
    • Choose…Turkey Bacon (2 slices = 60 calories)
  • Instead of…Beef Sausage (3 oz. link = 230 calories)
    • Choose…Chicken Sausage (3 oz. link = 130 calories)
  • Instead of…Cherry Pie Filling (1/3 cup = 100 calories)
    • Choose…Pitted Cherries in Water (1/3 cup = 40 calories)
  • Instead of…Maple Syrup (¼ cup = 210 calories)
    • Choose…Sugar-Free Maple Syrup (¼ cup = 30 calories)
  • Instead of…Queso Dip (2 tablespoons = 80 calories)
    • Choose…Salsa (2 tablespoons = 10 calories)
  • Instead of…Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (¼ cup = 100 calories)
    • Choose…Nonfat Cottage Cheese (¼ cup = 40 calories)
  • Instead of…Creamy Veggie Dip (2 tablespoons = 110 calories)
    • Choose…Hummus or Yogurt-Based Veggie Dip (2 tablespoons = 35-70 calories)
  • Instead of…Fruit Canned in Heavy Syrup (½ cup = 110 calories)
    • Choose…Fruit Canned in 100% (½ cup = 70 calories)
  • Instead of…Tuna Canned in Oil (2 oz. = 130 calories)
    • Choose…Tuna Canned in Water (2 oz. = 70 calories)

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

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.