Cutting down on carbs is tricky. Our bodies need a certain amount of complex carbohydrates—foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide us with the energy that keeps us moving through our days and are essential to a well-rounded diet. Unfortunately, some of our favorite foods (pizza, pasta, and bread, to name a few) are packed with refined carbs, which are basically the black sheep of the carb family, and aren’t the healthiest options, to say the least.
But ditching those tasty foods isn’t easy. Thankfully, you don’t have to totally say goodbye to a bowl of pasta or a taco dinner to cut down on carbs. These seven tricks will help reduce your intake without messing with your favorite foods.
1. Choose your condiments wisely.
Unfortunately, some condiments have more carbs than others. And if you’re big on the dips and sauces, this is definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to reducing your carb count. Barbecue sauce and ketchup are two high-carb culprits—each have about 7 grams of carbs per serving—and many store bought options have added sugar. Instead, opt for mustard, vinegars, citrus juice, and spices for that extra hit of flavor.
2. Use alternative noodles.
If you aren’t already a fan of spiralizing (AKA turning your vegetables into noodles), you may want to jump on the trend. You can find affordable spiralizers online and use them to transform zucchinis, carrots, beets, or really any veggie you set your mind to. And if you don’t feel like investing in a spiralizer, you can still get that same noodle effect by cutting your produce of choice into long, thin strips with a chef’s knife.
Another easy noodle alternative? Spaghetti squash. This vegetable requires no spiralizing at all and it’s super easy to cook. Simply cut one squash in half, clean out the seeds, and set it face-down in a baking pan, set your oven to 400 degrees F, and let it cook for 30 to 45 minutes. You can also pop it in the microwave for a speedy cook if you don’t feel like breaking a sweat.
3. Say hello to cauliflower, the culinary shape shifter.
Cauliflower has super powers: Watch as it transforms into rice, pizza crust, burger buns, and every other low-carb alternative you could possibly ever want. Seriously, there are so, so many ways you can use this cruciferous veggie to cut carbs. Turning it into any of these foods is as simple as popping it into your blender of food processor, or even just grating it. You’ll have a dough-like veggie-packed mound you can mold into whatever you like. Here are eight amazing ways to sub in cauliflower for lesser carbs.
4. Use lettuce leaves (or other hearty leafy vegetables) for wraps and burritos.
This trick is a great way to cut carbs and calories (yay!). Turn iceberg lettuce into taco shells or Chinese chicken wraps. If you’re looking for a thicker texture similar to an actual tortilla, you may want to use a sturdier leaf like romaine lettuce or collard greens instead.
5. And eat more leafy greens in general.
“Filling up your meals with green leafy vegetables is a great way to add a lot of volumes while remaining low in carbohydrates,” says Emily Cope-Kyle, M.S., R.D. owner and consulting dietician at EmilyKyleNutrition.com. Leafy greens like kale and spinach have a pretty mild flavor that’s easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes. Instead of serving soup over rice, try pouring it over that kale, and add a little spinach to your next bowl of pasta. You can also use these vegetables in unexpected places—try making a savory oatmeal.
6. Swap your grain for a side of veggies.
On a similar note, consider ditching that grain altogether and doubling up on veggies. “Non-starchy vegetables help to reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed by displacing the volume missed in traditional grain sides like pasta and rice,” Cope-Kyle tells SELF. If you do try this trick, choose a veggie that’s both fibrous and hearty enough to really fill you up. I like to load my plate up with broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.
7. “Bread” your chicken with nuts.
Say goodbye to that tin of breadcrumbs and hello to chopped pistachios, pecans, almonds, walnuts, or whatever. Pretty much any nut you prefer can be used to get your chicken that delicious, bread-like texture.
Actually coating your cut of meat in nuts is pretty darn easy, too. You’ll want to make sure those nuts are chopped nice and small (but not to small that they turn into a dusty powder). Then, simply press the nuts into your chicken until they stick, pop your food in the oven, and presto! “Breaded” chicken that tastes damn close to the real thing. You can find a couple recipes here.