When building healthier eating habits, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on all the things you can’t eat.
With the ketogenic diet, your intake of carbohydrates is strictly limited so your body can switch to burning fat for energy instead of carbs. (This is called ketosis.) So that means no pasta, pizza, or potatoes, right?
Not so fast! Actually, you can have low-carb noodles, pizzas, fries, and many other types of foods to which you might have already bid a tearful goodbye.
It’s simply a matter of learning how to swap out the offending ingredients and replace them with delicious low-carb substitutes. You may even find you like the alternative version better!
Let’s take a look at healthier ways to make your favorite foods.
Keto Pasta Substitutes
Pasta is a common go-to meal in most households, thanks to its quick and easy preparation and the variety of sauces that go with it.
So, when you decide to cut down on carbohydrates, pasta dishes leave one of the biggest holes.
But not to worry, there are lots of ways to reinvent these classic comfort foods.
Make your own keto noodles using these low-carb vegetables:
- Zucchini (1.7 g net carbs [NC] per 100 g, cooked)
- Cucumbers (3.1 g NC per 100 g, raw)
- Beets (3.1 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
- Eggplant (5.6 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
- Carrots (6.9 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
Since carrots are the highest in carbs, check here to see how much you can eat and still stay in ketosis.
|Keto vegetable noodles||Net carbs (g) per 100 grams|
Tips for making veggie noodles:
- You can use a spiralizer if you’ve got one. Otherwise, all you need is a regular vegetable peeler.
- The more pressure you apply, the thicker the noodle will be.
- You can cut each piece lengthwise with a knife for thinner noodles.
- Most vegetable skins are okay to eat and actually contain a lot of nutrients, so consider eating those pieces too!
The noodles can be eaten raw or cooked. (The carb info above is for cooked vegetables, except cucumber which is calculated raw.) The cooking time is much shorter than for regular pasta. Just 3 to 5 minutes in boiling salted water should do the trick.
It’s better to undercook rather than overcook. Nobody likes soggy noodles, whereas raw vegetables never hurt anyone!
Low-Carb Pasta-Free Lasagna
To substitute lasagna sheets, you can use slices of:
- Zucchini (1.7 g net carbohydrates per 100 g)
- Eggplant (5.6 g NC per 100 g)
- Prosciutto (0.3 g NC NC per 100 g)
- Turkey (0.9 g NC per 100 g, extra lean)
- Ham (0.9 g NC per 100 g, extra lean)
- Chicken (2.2 g NC per 100 g, oven-roasted, fat-free)
Tips when using vegetables for lasagna sheets:
- Cut them lengthwise, not horizontally. That way, each slice covers more surface area.
- Lightly salt the slices, let sit for at least 15 minutes, and blot dry using a paper towel. This way, your zucchini lasagna won’t get watery, and your eggplant will have a better flavor and texture.
- Cook/grill/bake the veggie slices before using them in the lasagna.
Ketogenic mac and cheese
This cheesy comfort food has an easy low-carb version: simply boil chopped cauliflower florets instead of using macaroni.
Cauliflower has 1.7 g net carbs per 100 g, cooked.
Again, err on the side of cooking it for less time to avoid the soggy factor. And that’s all there is to it!
Store-bought pasta alternatives
- Shirataki / konjac noodles
- Tofu noodles
- Seaweed pasta
- Kelp noodles
- Low-carb pasta brands
Keep in mind that packaged products often have additives to prolong shelf life and alter the flavor. If you have time, using fresh, whole ingredients to make your own is preferable.
Low-Carb Potato Substitutes
Potatoes go with just about everything! Except a keto diet, unfortunately.
Here’s how to put a low-carb spin on this versatile but starchy vegetable.
Mashed potato alternatives
- Cauliflower (1.7 g net carbohydrates per 100 g, cooked)
- Broccoli (2.9 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
- Turnip (3.1 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
- Rutabaga, aka swede (5 g NC per 100 g, cooked)
Chop and boil your vegetable(s) of choice. Drain, and add butter, cream, salt and pepper, and mash everything together.
- Sour cream
- Fresh herbs
Keto cauliflower tater tots
- Preheat your oven to 400 F (205 C).
- Make cauliflower rice with a box grater or food processor.
- Cook rice in the microwave for 7 minutes.
- While hot, mix in cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, or combo), egg, salt, and pepper. Optional: garlic, paprika.
- Mix and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Spray or line a baking tray.
- Use your hands to make “tots” or balls out of the mixture.
- Place on the tray.
- Cook for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown, flipping halfway through.
Substitutes for french fries
- Zucchini fries (1.7 g net carbs per 100 g)
- Rutabaga fries (5 g NC per 100 g)
Cut the vegetables into fry lengths, toss with olive oil, salt, and your favorite spices, and cook them in the oven.
A faster option for healthy finger-foods is to slice up some raw vegetables, like bell peppers, celery, and carrots. Let the snacking begin!
Low-carb cabbage hash browns
- Shred cabbage (3.4 g net carbs per 100 g, cooked).
- In a bowl, whisk eggs and add salt, pepper, and raw cabbage.
- Heat olive oil in a pan.
- Spoon some of the mixture into the pan, making a pancake shape.
- Let cook 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
- Repeat until all the mixture has been used.
Remember that ketchup is too sugary to be ketogenic, but most hot sauces are okay.
Keto Milk Substitutes
Due to the lactose content, milk is costly in terms of carbohydrates. 1 cup of whole milk has 11.5 g of net carbs, which gets bumped up to 12.1 g per 1 cup of nonfat/fat free/skim milk.
So, what are the alternatives?
For drinking and keto cookie dipping, you can pour yourself a glass of:
- Soy milk* (about 2.2 g net carbs per 1 cup, unsweetened)
- Almond milk* (2.9 g NC per 1 cup, unsweetened)
For adding to sauces, soups, or curries, you’re better off with:
- Plain Greek yogurt (5.7 g net carbs per 1 container, 156g)
- Coconut milk* (6.4 g NC per 1 cup)
- Heavy cream (6.8 g NC per 1 cup liquid)
- Light whipping cream (7.1 NC per 1 cup liquid)
Common milk alternatives to avoid on keto include oat milk* (14.1 g net carbs per 1 cup) and rice milk* (21.7 g NC per 1 cup). Half-and-half (10.4 g NC per 1 cup) may be okay in small quantities.
The options marked with an asterisk (*) are also dairy-free in case you are lactose intolerant or have a dairy sensitivity or allergy.
Keto Substitutes for Flour
Flour is the invisible ingredient in many favorite staples, from pizza and bread to pancakes and desserts. How does the low-carb crowd cope?
Flour alternatives for low-carb baking, muffins, pancakes
Almond and/or coconut flour are the usual replacements in these types of recipes.
Keep in mind that the flavors may change, and you may need to make adjustments to the recipe in terms of the substitute ratio to use.
Instead of using a recipe intended for regular flour, it may be easier to just look for a new recipe that was originally made with the alternate ingredient. This way you won’t have to worry about calculating the correct quantity. Thanks to the popularity of low-carb eating, there are thousands of recipes available for free online.
Keto pizza crust substitutes
Pizza is a priority! Luckily, it’s easy to find good low-carb pizza crust recipes that use:
- Cauliflower rice
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
Keto breadcrumb substitutes
Here are some low-carb ways to bread chicken, meat or fish; make meatballs and burgers; or add a crunch to keto mac and cheese, salads, and soups:
- Almond flour or meal
- Coconut flour
- Crushed pork rinds
- Finely chopped walnuts/almonds/peanuts/pistachios
- Grated or shredded parmesan cheese
- Psyllium husk
- Sesame seeds or flour
Instead of bread for keto
Rather than making a low-carb bread, try something healthier on either end of your sandwich or burger:
- Fresh lettuce (romaine or iceberg works best)
- Portobello mushroom caps
- Eggplant or zucchini slices (roast/grill first)
- Tomato halves (hollow out the seeds to avoid drips)
Want a crunchy salad topping? Forget croutons and substitute with:
- Red onion slices
- Sunflower seeds
Top 3 Essentials Low-Carb Substitutes for Keto
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You don’t have to give up your favorite foods to eat ketogenically, you can simply tweak the recipe a bit and enjoy a low-carb version.
Even so, remember that just because something is low in carbohydrates doesn’t mean it’s good for you. The healthiest substitutes are vegetables and other natural foods, like nuts and seeds.
So, use your diet as an opportunity to reduce your reliance on packaged products, and start getting inspired to cook with real ingredients! Your inner chef is waiting for you.
Net carbohydrates data sourced from the USDA database: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/