21 Unexpected Ways To Eat Less Carbs Without Even Noticing


1. Cut back on oatmeal portions by adding savory veggies.

Who says your A.M. oats have to be sweet? "I almost exclusively eat savory oatmeal," says Jackie Newgent, R.D., culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook . "It’s loaded with vegetables, [so you can have] half the oats. I use whatever’s in season—a couple of days ago I made an asparagus-dill oatmeal. Use water or vegetable broth instead of milk, and then instead of adding fruit, add vegetables. It’s like a risotto, but it’s much easier to cook! You cut the vegetables up so you can add it to the water when you add the oats, which take about five minutes to cook."

2. When it comes to a delicious bagel, focus on eating the proper serving size.

Bagels tend to blow away normal serving sizes, says Michelle Dudash, R.D., Cordon Bleu-certified chef and creator of  Clean Eating Cooking School: Monthly Meal Plans Made Simple. "Have half a bagel, or 'carve' it—pull out the center if you like the crust. Cottage cheese is a good topping for bagels, or unsweetened nut butter like peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, or walnut butter. Put your own fresh fruit on top instead of jelly—it's lower in carbs," she says.

3. Make yellow squash hash browns.

"Instead of potatoes, you can use yellow summer squash and add whatever you would normally add to hash browns," says Newgent. "I might add green pepper and onion. It looks just like a hash brown, but you have a fewer carbs [than you have using potatoes]."

4. Try two-ingredient flour-free pancakes.

Bring on the pancake brunch. "I’ve made two-ingredient pancakes with one medium banana, two eggs, and I usually add a pinch of salt," says Newgent. Even though bananas have carbs, "It’s going to be fewer [than regular pancakes]. I like to do a chocolate version, too, where I add a little cocoa powder. I drizzle them with honey at the end." Yum!


5. Switch up your sandwich bread...

Instead of regular bread, opt for what many brands call sandwich thins. "Whole-wheat or whole-grain sandwich thins are great because you get a top and a bottom, and they’re low in calories and carbohydrates compared to a regular white bun," says Kroplin. Adds Dudash, "It’s doing the portion control for you, and they're only about 100 calories."

6. ...Or eat your sandwich open-faced.

This may be the oldest trick in the carb-cutting book, but now, it's actually kind of cool. "Sometimes instead of a regular sandwich, an open-faced sandwich is actually trendier, like a toast or a tartine," says Newgent. It's also extra pretty—hello avocado toast Instagrams!

7. Portobello mushroom caps can stand in as burger buns.

"What I’ve done instead of hamburger buns is grilled portobello mushroom caps," says Newgent. While some people use portobellos in place of patties, you can enjoy your actual meat, too, with this swap. "It looks and acts like a bun, although you probably want to use a fork and knife," she suggests.

8. Order the burrito bowl instead of the full burrito.

"At a Mexican restaurant, I recommend getting the bowl instead of the burrito, because you’re getting the same flavors, but if you’re getting beans, rice, and a tortilla, you’re getting carbs on carbs on carbs," says Dudash. Another option? Skip the rice and opt for lettuce instead for a flavorful salad.

9. DIY your salad dressing.

Speaking of salad, packaged dressings are notoriously sneaky about sugar content (sugar is a carb). To avoid this, make your own vinaigrette for your lunch salad. "My favorite thing to do is mix balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar with Dijon mustard, maybe a little bit of honey or agave, and then a drizzle of olive oil," says Dudash. "That’s my formula for most salad dressings."


10. Use veggies as dippers instead of chips.

Instead of using chips or pita for your favorite dip, swap them out and use veggies instead. Next time you go for hummus, guacamole, or salsa, "you can use romaine hearts, celery, sliced cucumbers, or bell pepper strips—cut them really wide so they’re like planks," says Dudash. Making homemade hummus lets you get creative with the flavor, like this miso version below.

11. Swap regular popcorn for cauliflower popcorn.

Popcorn can be a good choice when it's air-popped and not loaded with butter, salt, and oil, but if you're trying to cut carbs, this switch will give your that same crunchy satisfaction. "I’ve made cauliflower popcorn," says Newgent. "You cut cauliflower into small bite-sized pieces and just roast it until it’s crispy, and you can use that in place of popcorn. Top it with olive oil, salt, and a little pinch of turmeric, because that’ll make it a little yellow. It has some richness because of the olive oil–it’s an adult version of popcorn. I roast it at 475 degrees for up to 20 minutes, until it’s golden brown."


12. Bulk up your pasta by tossing it with veggies.

"Cut back on the pasta portion and [toss it with] cooked vegetables," says Kroplin. "Also toss in your lean protein, like chicken, turkey, or lean ground beef along with your roasted vegetables. That’s a really good way to bulk up the portion without bulking up the carbs." And top with your favorite sauce (Kroplin likes a tomato and basil or garden vegetable red sauce.) Newgent adds, "I’ll slice bell peppers really thin and toss them in the water at the same time as the pasta, so you’re basically boiling them and it becomes part of the process. It tastes a little bit sweeter but then you can kind of balance it with a little extra spiciness, like red pepper flakes."

13. You can ditch the noodles altogether with spiralized vegetables...

Spiralized vegetables can be used in almost any pasta dish as a substitute for noodles. "I do pretty much what I would do with my spaghetti noodles—I just add my vegetables and marinara sauce on top, and some lean ground beef."

14. ...Or use spaghetti squash as a stand-in for pasta.

Spaghetti squash is an easy swap for pasta, but it can be intimidating to try and cut through. Kroplin has an easy, no-fuss hack for roasting the veggie: "I wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil, set it on a pan with more aluminum foil, and pop it in the oven at about 400 to 415 degrees. Sometimes it takes 45 minutes to an hour to really cook, but you can kind of forget about it." When you can pierce the skin with a fork, it's cooked through—and way easier to slice in half. "Start scooping it out with your spoon and top it with tomato sauce, and you’ve got a great meal," says Kroplin.

15. You can make low-carb lasagna with zucchini or eggplant.

"You can prep really long strips of zucchini or eggplant and use them in lasagna, so for each layer you can do a layer of thinly sliced vegetables," says Newgent. "You could do two layers of noodles and then two layers of vegetables, so it’s not an all-or-nothing concept."

16. Mix tons of grated veggies into your rice or couscous.

Newgent calls this colorful swap 'confetti couscous.' "Mix grated, non-starchy vegetables in with a traditional starchier grain, like rice or couscous, so you reduce the carbs but you still have that grain. With couscous, add the grated vegetables right when you stir the couscous into the water because it doesn’t take long to cook (about five minutes). With rice, stir them in towards the end of the cooking process, about five minutes before you’re done, or stir them in when you’re finished making the rice and put the lid on and set it aside for at least five minutes." She goes for a tricolor combo with grated zucchini, yellow summer squash, and carrot.

17. Or swap it out for cauliflower rice.

"I love to do a cauliflower rice," says Newgent. "You basically just pulse raw cauliflower in a food processor until it’s a rice consistency, or even a couscous consistency, and then sauté it in a skillet. It has a lot fewer carbs [than regular rice]. There’s really no limitation, and you can season it or add herbs according to whatever you’re pairing it with." Top the cauliflower with whatever you'd normally pair with rice.

18. Cauliflower can be made into pizza crust, too.

Cauliflower pizza crust? So game-changing, and way easier than you'd think. All you need is cauliflower, an egg, cheese, and some salt, and you've got the perfect low-carb base for your go-to pizza toppings.

19. Cut back on potatoes by mixing in other roasted veggies.

One-pan meals aren't only easy—they're an opportunity to cut back on carb-heavy starches and mix in tasty roasted veggies. "One of my favorite [ways to make a] one-pan meal is to take one whole sweet potato, peel it and chop it into chunks, and then add in zucchini squash, carrots, and onion. I scatter that on a pan, [add olive oil], and season it a little bit. I roast it at 400 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, and I add chopped turkey kielbasa sausage and cook for about 10 more minutes." You can also pair your protein with whatever vegetables you have around.

20. And use nuts for "breaded" chicken.

"When you bread things like fish or chicken, you can cut down on the carbs by using chopped nuts or almond meal instead of flour," says Dudash. "It’s nice and crunchy and it has a nutty taste. You can just chop nuts up really fine or grind them in your food processor, and then drizzle them in a little oil, spices, and herbs. Then, dip your protein in whisked egg [and then in the nuts]. Cook at a higher temperature, around 450 degrees in a convection oven—for chicken nuggets, I’ll do 10 minutes."

21. And no matter what you're eating, switch up your plating order.

This simple mental trick can reduce how many carbs you're eating without even trying. "Normally, it’s typical to go for the carbs first," says Kroplin. "Start by filling half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, then dish up your lean protein, and let your carbohydrate be the last serving you put on your plate. By the time you get to that spot, there’s not a whole lot of room left."

By Alexa Tucker.

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