There’s a lot of confusion around carbs, so let’s get this part out of the way first: carbs are not “bad.” We need some for normal body and brain function. We get carbs in the diet from grains like bread, pasta, or oats as well as fruit, starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes, beans, and corn. Dairy products also contain a carbohydrate, lactose.
However, not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains (oats, barley, amaranth, etc), beans, lentils, corn, and sweet potatoes take longer to digest than simple carbs like white bread or pasta and pastries. For stable blood sugar and energy, consume carbohydrates in the context of a meal or snack that also has some protein or fat to buffer the breakdown of those carbs. Slower digestion means you will feel full for longer.
Some people find they feel better with more or fewer carbs than others, and that’s okay—pay attention to how you feel when you eat different things and see what pattern makes you feel good. Maybe oatmeal is your magic breakfast food but you don’t need pasta or rice with dinner to feel satisfied. Your body is smart—listen to what it tells you.
In general, you want to prioritize the foods you love. To make room in your diet for the carbs you care about, finding low-carb swaps can be a big help. Sandwiches, for example, are a convenient meal option, but if you know you have cake in your immediate future, or you’re more interested in the fruit salad or a cup of, say, black bean chili or baked sweet potato fries on the side, try one of these low-carb substitutes for the bread.
Bell Pepper: Slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Top each half with sandwich filling. This is best eaten open-faced.
Lettuce Cups: Butter lettuce is great for this. Simply use as you would pieces of bread. It’s a refreshing way to add some crunch to your meal. Added bonus: lettuce is very hydrating, and that extra water may help keep you full.
Collard Greens: Collards are perfect for wraps and burritos. Just spread on some hummus or avocado and layer or fill with your favorite meats, vegetables and condiments.
Eggplant: Slice an eggplant into rounds and roast or grill. Use two in place of bread—this works especially great for open-faced sandwiches. You can even eat with a knife and fork if you like.
Zucchini Boats: Slice a medium zucchini lengthwise to make two long cylinders. Spread sandwich filling on the cut side of one piece and place the other slice of top. If prefered, you can serve open-faced or grill or roast zucchini before making your sandwich—you can eat with a knife and fork.
Cucumber Boats: Slice a medium cucumber lengthwise and top one half with filling. Place other slice of cucumber on top. Depending on the size of the cucumber, you can cut in half again or eat open-faced.
Portobello Mushrooms: This works best for grilled or roasted portobellos. Simply use the mushrooms in place of bread.
Tomatoes: Remove the seeds from a large, raw tomato and use in place of bread.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. You might just find a new favorite lunch!
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life and a balanced relationship with food. For those in need of some healthy-eating inspiration, Jess created five day's worth of delicious make-ahead lunches to make it even easier to eat well on a busy day. For more information on Jess, check out her website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit; Second Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Fanfo/shutterstock.com