There are loads of low carb rice alternatives out there which not only fill the gap that rice leaves behind, but are also far more flavourful and nutritious! Here’s our pick of the top Low Carb rice alternatives.
Real Food Low Carb Rice Alternatives
Low carb diets have withstood the test of time to prove a health-optimising lifestyle choice for many of us. Keto, Paleo, Banting, Whole 30 and other variations of low-carb high-fat diets have been shown to reduce blood pressure, balance cholesterol levels, improve insulin resistance and promote weight loss – alongside many other health benefits.
So, their ever-growing popularity is bound to fuel a surge in low-carb products. As ever, there’s always a market for foods and products proudly able to display the ‘low carb’ claim!
Low carb rice alternatives can be made at home using fresh produce that’s as natural as can be and completely unprocessed.
When it comes to store bought options, you often have to add air miles, preservatives, hidden ingredients and a pretty hefty price tag to the equation! That’s why all of our top picks for low carb rice alternatives are made using good old Real Food!
What Amount of Carbohydrate Intake is Classed as Low Carb?
Low carb diets provide a smaller ratio of energy from carbs compared with fat and protein. There are many different varieties of low carb diets but most aim to keep daily carbs below 50g per day, which roughly equates to getting just 5% of your daily energy requirements from carbs. This is the case with perhaps the most popular Low Carb diet – the Ketogenic Diet.
In general, low carb diets aim for less than 50g carbs per day, but this can fall to as low as 20g per day in some diets such as Keto. At this amount, any carb intake you get will be incidental from foods which happen to contain a minimal amount of carbs. So, you wouldn’t be choosing to include any foods high in carbs at all.
Types of Low Carb Diets
Type low carb diet into your browser and prepare to open a can of virtual worms! There’s so many variations of low carb diets out there – which is great because it gives a lot of choice, so you can find the one which works best for you.
Here’s our pick of the top 5 low carb diets!
Perhaps the most popular low carb diet, the main aim of the Keto diet is to fuel the body using fat (stored or dietary) – not carbs. When carb intake is so low that the body must use fat for fuel, this is called Ketosis – and it’s this metabolic process those on Keto aim for, thanks to its wealth of associated health benefits. Learn more here.
The Paleo lifestyle incorporates the Real Food diet our ancestors survived and thrived on for thousands of years. Their diet was free from grains and refined sugar, making it predominantly and naturally low in – you guessed it – carbs! Here’s a beginner’s guide.
This one takes its name from its founder, William Banting – a guy who discovered the amazing benefits of a low carb diet for weight loss and used them to tackle his own obesity over a century ago. The Banting diet focuses on eating meat, fresh veg and fruit, whilst avoiding sugar and carbs. Here’s a quick guide to Banting-friendly foods.
The Whole 30 diet involves eliminating a range of foods and drinks from your lifestyle for 30 days. This includes grains, legumes, sugar and baked goods - which are all high in carbs. The idea is that the benefits you see in this short time will motivate ongoing lifestyle choices (such as lowering your carb intake). More on Whole 30 here.
Low Carb, High FatThe clue really is in the name! It’s all about reducing your carbs and replacing them with foods higher in fat to meet your energy requirements. The Low-Carb, High-Fat (LCHF) diet was founded by Dr Annika Dahlqvist, a GP in Sweden who recommended this balance of macronutrients to her patients to improve health outcomes such as fat loss, maintaining a healthy weight and even reversing Type 2 Diabetes. Learn more.
Low Carb Diets in a Nut Shell
Whilst there are some differences between specific low carb diets, they’re all based on eliminating high carb foods and replacing them with foods higher in protein and fat. It’s that simple – so put the calculator away!
Remember, there are many amazing benefits of adopting a diet that’s low in carbs in the long-term. So, none of these are quick fixes or dietary fads; they just provide a structure to guide your low carb lifestyle.
What Are the Benefits of a Low Carb Diet?
The benefits of a low carb diet are backed up by extensive scientific evidence. Here’s just some of the amazing benefits of a low carb diet:
- Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Rebalance Cholesterol
- Help with Weight Loss and Maintenance
- Appetite Regulation and Weight Loss
- Improve Blood Triglycerides
Individually, these all tackle specific health issues but together they make for a health-optimising diet that promotes overall health and wellbeing.
What is Glycaemic Index?
Even if you’re not over familiar with Glycaemic Index (GI) there’s a still a chance it may ring a very quiet bell in the depths of your memory! That’s because low GI diets were the in-thing decades ago, with low GI diet plans and books being a must have for those seeking to lose weight.
This was the result of publishers and marketers cleverly rebranding the low-carb diet to sound more science-y and credible. Anyway, we digress! Don’t get us wrong; GI is not irrelevant, nor is it a dietary fad – we just recognise that it has had its time in the limelight, which has since fizzled out!
GI ranks food depending on the rate at which it is broken down in the body and converted into glucose.
- High GI Foods – Quickly broken down into glucose, causing blood sugars to spike
- Low GI Foods – Digested and absorbed more slowly, having less of an impact on blood sugars
Benefits of Low GI Foods
Low GI foods minimally impact blood sugars and so don’t inhibit ketosis or ketone production – so getting to grips with the GI content of common foods is wise if you’re following a Low Carb lifestyle.
Trouble is, we’re all different and the effect of food on blood sugar is variable from person to person – being influenced by pre-prandial blood sugars (measured before eating) and individual insulin resistance.
What’s more, GI gets a bit tricky when you veer away from the indicated portion size of each food (which predetermines its GI), or when you mix foods… as in most mealtimes! This brings us nicely on to our next question.
What is Glycaemic Load?
Glycaemic Load (GL) is a measure which takes into account the amount of carbs in a food together with how quickly they are absorbed. This is worked out with this fancy yet simple equation:
GL = GI x Carbohydrate / 100
This is especially useful because the standard portion sizes indicated by the GI index aren’t always a reality. GL tends to be considered a better measure of the effect of food on blood sugar as it considers carb content and portion size. So, no matter what portion size you have, you can pop the amount of carbs into the above equation together with its GI to determine GL.
Bamboozled? Don’t be, you’ll soon get your head round Glycaemic Load when you start using it in practice. And like everything in our modern privileged lives, there’s an app that will do it all for you!
Here’s a simple guide to low, medium and high GL ranges:
- Low Glycaemic Load (low GL): 0 to 10
- Medium Glycaemic load (medium GL): 11 to 19
- High Glycaemic load (high GL): 20 and over
The University of Sydney are pioneers of research into Low Carb diets and have a handy calculator on their site which calculates GI and GL of most foods, check it out here.
4 Best Low Carb Rice Alternatives
So, now we’ve got our heads round the whole Low Carb diet and why it matters thing, let’s address the question most of us have when first cutting out carbs “will my meal ever be the same again?!” YES!
We are firm believers that everything in life which isn’t so good for you, or doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle or preferences, can be reinvented to become a healthful and guilt-free version of whatever you’d usually go without. That goes with carbs too.
Whether you’re having curry, stir-fry, stew or even sushi – there’s a Low Carb rice alternative that will give you all of the flavour, satiety and satisfaction but with minimal carbs compared with conventional rice. Here’s our pick of the top 4 Low Carb rice alternatives.
1. Cauliflower Rice
A pseudo-rice made using florets of cauliflower, cauli rice is the OG of Low Carb rice alternatives. It looks almost the real deal and is just as versatile as conventional rice – arguably more so considering you can eat cauli rice raw.
Cauliflower rice is packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre which slows down the digestion of the small amount of carbs it contains. It’s also a great source of choline, an essential nutrient which supports cellular growth and metabolism. What’s more, cauliflower is also around 90% water which makes it surprisingly hydrating too.
How to make it:
- Remove florets from the cauliflower head to separate from the stalk and leaves
- Mince the cauliflower in a food processor by pulsing repeatedly until rice-like in consistency OR if you don’t have a food processor you can grate by hand using the medium-sized holes on a box grater
- Consume raw or cook lightly, either by stir-frying in a tbsp avocado oil or by microwaving with 2tbsp water for around 2 minutes per portion (drain away excess moisture)
Raw cauliflower rice should be used straight away as it spoils quickly. To make it last a little longer, you can squeeze out the moisture in your cauli rice using a muslin and good-old squeeze-and-twist technique! The resultant drier rice will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 days, or can be frozen for up to 1 month.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
Carb Content: 6g
Glycaemic Index: 10 (low)
Glycaemic Load: 0.6 (low)
Bonus Points: Texture just like rice, super cheap, moderately easy and subtle nutty flavour.
Room for Improvement: Not as filling as rice, can be watery.
Bonus Recipe: Paleo Buffalo Chicken Bake with Cauliflower Rice
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2. Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is a variety of squash which takes its name from its stringy spaghetti-like flesh (once cooked). It’s in season in the UK from September through to March and some larger supermarkets will stock frozen spaghetti squash, which is ready to use.
Like all yellow-orange fruit and veg, spaghetti squash is a rich source of beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. It’s also packed with Vitamins B6 and C and is high in fibre – which slows down the absorption of carbs and minimises the effect of carb intake on blood sugar levels.
How to make it:
- Preheat the oven to 200 °C
- Cut the squash in half lengthways and remove the seeds, prick the skin with a fork
- Drizzle with avocado oil and bake for 40-60 minutes, until the inner yellow flesh is tender
- Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and use a fork to separate the strands
Spaghetti squash can be used as a rice or pasta alternative, so goes great with a simple sauce, served as a side with your favourite meat or fish or can even be used cold and tossed into a nutritious salad.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
Carb Content: 10g
Glycaemic Index: 51 (moderate)
Glycaemic Load: 5.1 (low)
Bonus Points: Tastes amazing, versatile to use in place of rice and pasta, super cheap.
Room for Improvement: Seasonal availability, takes a while to cook.
Bonus Recipe: Serve up as a bed for our Warm Smoked Pepper Mackerel with Caper and Garlic Mayo.
Time Taken: ⭐️⭐️
3. Broccoli Rice
You guessed it! The second offering from the cruciferous veg category, broccoli rice is made using – well – broccoli of course! Broccoli rice is made using the florets and the stalk of the broccoli, which is much more tender compared with a cauliflower stalk.
Green veg is perhaps the best-known provider of health-optimising nutrients and “eat your greens!” is a statement which has withstood the test of time. Broccoli is packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and is even a good source of protein. Broccoli is a particularly great source of B vitamins, especially folate.
How to make it:
- Trim the broccoli, removing any thick skin or woody parts of the stalk
- Cut or snap the whole head of broccoli into 2cm chunks, any bigger and it won’t process as well, and you’ll be left with great big chunks!
- Add to a food processor and pulse repeatedly until you end up with a uniformly rice-like texture and no lumps
- Optional: season with cracked black pepper, Himalayan rock salt and your herbs of choice for an added kick of flavour
Just like cauli rice, you can use broccoli rice raw in salads or as a nutritious side dish – or stir-fry / microwave for 2 minutes (with 1tbsp water) to lightly cook and serve warm.
Nutritional information (per serving):
Carb Content: 2.8g
Glycaemic Index: 10 (low)
Glycaemic Load: 0.28 (low)
Bonus Points: Added greens, super cheap, super easy, low in calories
Room for Improvement: Not as filling, less rice-like than cauliflower.
Bonus Recipe: Raw broccoli rice is the perfect addition to our well-dressed Spicy Thai Beef Salad.
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Probably the one you may not have heard of let alone tried before, Rutabaga is a root vegetable also known as the ‘Swedish turnip.’ The origin of this low carb veg is a great story – born from the meeting of wild promiscuous turnips crossing with unsuspecting cabbages – and so Rutabaga was born!
Rutabagas are rich in antioxidants including Vitamins C & E. They’re also packed with healthful minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. Rutabagas pack in the most fibre of all our Low Carb rice alternatives – containing around 9g per medium rutabaga, which is around 30% of your daily fibre requirements – super good for gut health and keeping you fuller for longer!
How to make it:
- Peel the skin off your rutabaga and top and tail the ends off
- Use a spiralizer to make noodles (Woah – sprialize? Some recipes recommend just chopping up your rutabaga into small chunks before blitzing in a food processor, but we find this way makes a much lighter end result which isn’t water-logged and can be enjoyed almost raw for a higher nutrient absorbency)
- Add the spiralized rutabaga to a food processor in batches and blitz until rice like
- Lightly steam above a pan of simmering water for 8-10 minutes until tender – then enjoy!
Rutabaga rice can’t be eaten raw as its turnip-like ancestry makes it a bit of a tough cookie! Steaming gives a lighter end result that maintains most of the nutrients, compared with some recipes which suggest boiling the riced rutabaga, where you’ll lose a lot of nutrients into the water.
Nutritional information (per serving):
Carb Content: 12g
Glycaemic Index: 72 (high)
Glycaemic Load: 8.6 (low)
Bonus Points: Super high in fibre, sooo cheap, incredibly nutritious.
Room for Improvement: Extra steps to prepare, requires flavouring, can become waterlogged during cooking.
Bonus Recipe: Rutabaga rice is the perfect pairing for our One Pan Paleo Dinner Recipe with Beef Mince and Sweet Potato.
Time Taken: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Whatever Low Carb lifestyle you follow, you shouldn’t have to go without your favourite dishes. It simply takes some imagination, reinvention and open-mindedness to discover tasty and satisfying alternatives to conventional carbs. Which one are you going to try first? Be sure to share with us your Low Carb recipes and creations!