Inexpensive Low-Calorie and Low-Fat Alternatives for Grain Dishes
Whether one is following a low-carb diet for weight loss, glycemic control or some other reason, it is easy to get a craving for old starchy favorites – noodles, macaroni, lasagna, perhaps dirty rice.
These days there are some low-carb pastas available in grocery stores, but they tend to be pricey and often unsatisfactory. Here are some other almost completely starch-free alternatives to satisfy cravings for pasta or rice.
Even those who are not low-carbing may find these ideas useful, as not only are macaroni and rice high in carbohydrates, they can be quite high in calories while the nutritional content is not too impressive. Most of these options are extremely low-calorie and many have impressive nutritional value.
Low-Carb Asian Noodles
Bean thread noodles (aka glass noodles) might come to mind as a possible low-carb option – beans are high in protein and relatively low in carbs, after all. Alas, bean thread noodles are made out of mung bean starch and are just as high in carbs as normal pasta. There are, however, some Asian noodles low in carbohydrates.
Shirataki noodles are made of glucomannan (konjac or konnyac), commonly used on weight loss diets. These Japanese noodles are somewhat gelatinous and have little flavour, but also almost zero calories and carbs. One may also find glucomannan in other shapes, such as mock abalone, which could substitute for pasta shells.
Tofu noodles (gan si) are mild in taste, though the texture is somewhat chewier than normal pasta. Bean curd noodles are similar, but even more chewy. Some companies are now making tofu shirataki noodles which are more substantial than normal shirataki, but still low in calories and carbs.
Mild and gelatinous agar agar noodles are usually only eaten cold in salads. Seaweed (kombu) noodles are green with a distinct “sea” flavour, which some people like and others don’t care for. They are rich in nutrients, but the iodine content of seaweed is so high that they should not be consumed too frequently.
Vegetables in Place of Pasta and Rice
If the Asian options sound too exotic or are unavailable, the best low-carb replacements for pasta are found in the vegetable aisle. Spaghetti squash is a well-known alternative to real spaghetti. When cooked the flesh of this winter squash turns into spaghetti-like ribbons.
Zucchini can also be spiralled with a food processor into tasty low-carb, low-calorie “spaghetti”, to be lightly steamed or fried. For a fancier option there is carrot “taggliatelle” or “fettucine”, made by grating the vegetable into long strips.
Low-carb lasagna noodles are available in many grocery stores, but a tastier and healthier option is to use zucchini or eggplant cut longwise into thin slices. These can also be used for “canneloni” and other pasta bakes.
For a low-carb rice substitute the vegetable aisle and a food processor come handy again. Carrot, cabbage and pumpkin or squash can be processed with the spiral blade until a rice-like texture is reached. Zucchini works too, but tends to be more watery. These low-carb “rices” can be enjoyed raw or cooked very briefly.