With the weather getting warmer and the layers of our clothes getting fewer, many of us try to eat healthier when spring arrives and lighten up our meals. All that winter comfort food may have added a few pounds that we can’t hide once our big, bulky sweaters come off. When we look at our diets for foods to cut back on, the bulls-eye usually lands on carbs. But who wants to live in a world without bread, pasta, sandwiches and cake? Not me. Some of the best dishes come with a big, heaping side of carbs. The good news is that we don’t have to give up our favorite foods. All it takes is a little creativity and ingenuity to make a few simple swap-outs for lighter, healthier dishes. Of course, we still want our food to taste delicious. Here are some ways to cut the carbs but none of the flavor.

1. Which Carbs to Cut

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Before we get to the recipes, we should look at which carbs we should cut back on. Not all carbs are created equally. Foods that contain refined carbs such as breads, white rice, white flour and certain sugars are the ones that need to go. Processed carbs that come from junk food should get the axe. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are essential to our diets for energy, digestion, focus, lean muscle development and allover healthy body functioning. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds contain complex carbohydrates that we should definitely include in our diets. To learn more about carbohydrates, see 7 Benefits of Complex Carbs and the Best Ones to Eat, Carbs: What You Should and Should Not Be Eating and Low Carb vs. High Carb Vegan? What’s Easier? What’s Better?

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2. Eat More Protein

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If you’re worried you won’t feel satisfied once you cut carbs, eat more protein-enriched foods. Soy foods such as tofu and tempeh have a lot of protein and adding them to any meal will make them more filling. Try making Killer Tofu Scrambles and adding tofu or tempeh to a salad like this Sesame Tofu and Broccoli Salad, Blueberry, Chili, Balsamic Tempeh over Spring Salad and Buttery Spinach Salad With Crumbled Tempeh and Crispy Shallots. You’ll be happy and satisfied with these Seitan Kebabs with Sangria Tomato Salad and if you are gluten-intolerant, try this gluten-free vegan meat in place of seitan.

Nuts and seeds are another way to add protein while also adding healthy fats. They also promote collagen production. See How to Use Raw Nuts and Seeds to Make Dairy-Free Salad Dressing and 5 Nut and Seed Butter Hacks Everyone Should Try. Add nuts and seeds to your salads like this Broccoli Salad with Quinoa, Scallions and Roasted Cashews or use them to make vegan meatballs like these Pumpkin Seed Cannellini Meatballs with Zucchini Spaghetti.

3. Eat Whole Grains

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While you might want to avoid white rice, you should definitely add some whole grains to your diet. They are high in protein and fiber and as long as you eat proper portions, they can have their place in a person’s diet. Check out Your Guide to Cooking Perfect Whole Grains for all you need to know about cooking times and water to grain ratios. Enjoy meals fortified with brown rice, quinoa, teff, millet, barley, and amaranth. See How to Turn Quinoa into a Delicious, Satisfying Meal and 8 Incredible Ways to Cook with Millet. See how good you feel when you eat The Perfect Whole Grain Protein Bowl for Your Post-Workout Appetite.

4. Eat Beans and Legumes

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A lot people think they need to avoid beans and legumes when they cut back on carbs. However, they contain complex carbohydrates that are packed with protein and tons of nutrients. Adding a scoop of beans or lentils to your meals will fill you up and make your taste buds happy too. Check out 10 Ways to Cook Beans with Global Flavors, 7 Exciting Ways to Cook Beans, Lentils Are More Than Just for Soup- Here’s How to Use Them Best, and 10 Ways to Cook Chickpeas with Global Flavor for lots of recipes and ideas. Consider using bean flours such as chickpea flour in place of white flour. Use beans and legumes to make burgers like these Black Bean, Corn and Walnut Burgers and these Walnut Lentil Burgers with Cauliflower Puree and Red Onion Relish. Make Black Bean Mushroom Soup, Curried Chickpea Salad, Sprouted Green Lentils and Peanut Salad, or Simple Lentil Dal. You can even use ground lentils as a breading instead of bread crumbs as in this Ayurvedic Lentil-Crusted Tofu. Beans and lentils can also replace flour to make desserts like these Black Bean Chili Chocolate Brownies.

5. Pasta Swaps

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The part of me that’s Italian can’t even think of giving up pasta. If you want to eat traditional pasta, choose noodles made from whole grains or veggies like corn, spinach or quinoa pastas. There are even pastas made from beans. Check out 7 Wheat-Free Noodle Options to Use in Your Favorite Dishes and learn How to Make Bean Pastas at home. When I want to eat a big bowl of pasta, I make noodles out of vegetables. Then I can eat all I want and not feel guilty at all. Use a spiralizer to make long noodles out of carrots, eggplant, zucchini, kohlrabi, or almost any long vegetable. If you don’t have a spiralizer, don’t worry. Do what I do and just use a vegetable peeler. Read How to Turn Any Vegetable or Fruit Into a Grain-Free Noodle and the Best Ones for the Job and How to Make Pasta from Vegetables without a Spiralizer for all the tips and tricks.

Then try these Sweet Potato Noodles with Coconut Curried Veggies, Avocado Herb Pesto with Zoodles, Vegan Zucchini Noodle Japchae, Carrot Beet Angel Hair Pasta with Spicy Pine Nut and Pistachio PestoSpaghetti Squash with Alfredo SauceMiso Roasted Tomatoes with Spiralized Carrot NoodlesKohlrabi Spaghetti alla Foriana and Vegan Eggplant Noodles. Cabbage replaces the noodles in this Street Pad Thai that is filled with veggies. Use zucchini and eggplant in lieu of noodles to make this amazing Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna.

6. The Magic of Cauliflower

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I love cauliflower. It’s healthy, it’s delicious and it’s magical. When you have a head of cauliflower, you have more than just a vegetable. You have a healthy way to make mashed potatoes, rice, pizza crust and even popcorn! The next time you make mashed potatoes, try replacing half or all of the potatoes with cauliflower as in this CauliMash. I have no self-control when it comes to rice so making rice out of cauliflower in a food processor is a great trick to keep me on track. Try this Spicy Curry Cauliflower (Rice) with Kale, Unfried Cauliflower Rice in Ginger Miso Sauce and this Spicy Orange Cauliflower Couscous. You can even make pizza crust and tortillas out of cauliflower like this Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Black Mung Bean Curry and these Cauliflower Tortillas. And that popcorn I promised you? Here it is: Cheesy Cauliflower Popcorn that is vegan, raw and gluten-free. Start the movie!

7. Instead of Bread

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The hardest part of avoiding carbs is bread. Bread is a part of so many favorite foods like burgers and sandwiches. Again, we can make smarter choices and choose bread, rolls and buns made from whole grains. Try making Whole Wheat French Bread, Gluten-Free Multi-Grain Rolls, and Buckwheat English Muffin Buns. Use sprouted grain tortillas to enjoy wraps like these Kale Avocado Wraps with Spicy Miso-Dipped Tempeh. You can even make Raw, Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread.

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If you do choose to skip the bread, however, you can still enjoy amazing burgers like these Red Lentil and Amaranth Protein Patties with Spicy Avocado Mayo or these Red Lentil Burgers with Kale Pesto. These burgers are so good with their especially delicious toppings, you won’t bread covering up the flavor. Serve your favorite vegan chicken salad on a bed of greens or wrap it up in a veggie wrap. Use zucchini, collard greens, eggplant, or lettuce to make a breadless sandwich. Try these Raw Zucchini Wraps, Hummus Collard Wraps, Grilled Artichoke and Quinoa Lettuce Wraps and these Rawsome Wraps that use spinach wraps. Did you know you can make your own wraps out of eggplant, cauliflower and coconut flour? Check out 7 Ways to Make Grain-Free Wraps and Tortillas for recipes and how-tos.

If you need more help coming up with healthy, low-carb ideas, check out A Green Monster’s Weekly Meal Plan: The Low-Carb Vegan Menu. It has lots of recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Lead Image Source: Vegan Zucchini Noodle Japchae

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