Tag Archives: Low-Carb

Stop Relying on Carbs: New Ideas for Low-Carb Snacks and Meals

When it comes to dieting, weight maintenance, and general nutrition, carbs are not the devil–despite what the Atkins and Paleo diets would have us believe. Carbs supply our bodies with the energy to perform everyday Carb-Centric Mealstasks and to work out; they supply glucose to fuel our brain; they even stimulate the production of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Luckily, carbs are widely available today–but they’re almost too available. Processed carbs seem to dominate the tablescape no matter what meal you’re serving: French toast (bread), grilled cheese (more bread), pizza (dough), sandwiches (more bread), spaghetti and meatballs (pasta). They’re also the backbone of most snacks: think hummus and pita bread, bruschetta, a bowl of cereal, granola bars, cheese and crackers. The main problem with this reliance on carbs is that processed carbs, compared to vegetables, are higher in calories and offer fewer nutrients. And in most cases, the carb-of-choice is simply a bland vehicle to showcase the true flavor-makers of the meal: a toasted baguette delivers the delicious combination of tomato, basil, and olive oil; pita bread scoops savory hummus right into your mouth.

So how can you use this information to maximize your nutrient intake? Keep eating enough carbs (keeping them as unprocessed and whole as possible) to sustain your everyday activities and workouts (that amount is different for everyone; athletes will need more) but replace bread, pasta, tortillas, pita, crackers, and cereal for fruits and vegetables every now and then. You’ll end up cutting out a few hundred calories per day and adding in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and valuable antioxidants! Try these substitutions:

Instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (432 calories, 59g carbs, 12g protein, 3g fiber, 18 g fat), try…

Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter
Apple peanut butter sandwiches (300 calories, 36g carbs, 8g protein, 6g fiber, 16g fat)

Instead of a turkey wrap (540 calories, 76g carbs, 24g protein, 16g fat, 6g fiber), try…Lettuce Turkey Sandwich Wrap

Lettuce turkey wraps (295 calories, 17g carbs, 32g protein, 11g fat, 6g fiber)

Instead of a spaghetti (221 calories, 43g carbs, 8g protein, 1.3g fat, 2.5g fiber), try…

Baked Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash (42 calories, 10g carbs, 1g protein, <0.5g fat, 2g fiber)

Instead of one egg roll (222 calories, 24g carbs, 7g protein, 11g fat), try…

Summer and Vegetable Rolls
Vegetable Chard Wraps with Spicy Lime-Ginger Dipping Sauce (87 calories, 7.1g carbs, 2.4g protein, 6.1g fat) or Summer Rolls (64 calories, 12g carbs, 1 g protein, 2g fat, 2g fiber)

Instead of pizza (237 calories, 26g carbs, 11g protein, 10g fat, 1.6g fiber per slice), try…

Portobello Pizza

Portobello pizza (150 calories, 15g carbs, 10g protein, 7g fat, 3g fiber)

Instead of cheese and crackers (185 calories, 9g carbs, 8g protein, 14g fat, 0g fiber per 4 crackers), try…

Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Rolls
Ricotta-stuffed zucchini rolls (103 calories, 7g carbs, 4g protein, 9g fat, 2g fiber per two rolls)

Note: You don’t have to replace all of your dry carbs (bread, pasta, cereal) with fruits and vegetables; depending on your activity level, those are essential for fueling workouts and maintaining steady energy levels and mood. But being aware of your carb intake–and reducing the amount of processed carbs you consume–can help cut out empty calories  from your diet and add in valuable nutrients.


Chicken Lettuce Cups with Peanut-Hoisin Sauce

Chicken lettuce cups appear on most Asian fusion menus as light, refreshing appetizers. But the nutritional stats are surprisingly – and unnecessarily – high: Pei Wei’s Minced Chicken with Cool Lettuce Wraps have 620 calories and 22 grams of fat – without the peanut sauce. Cheesecake Factory’s Thai Lettuce Wraps have 1,025 calories, 114 carbs, and 2,347 mg sodium! These chicken lettuce cups are light (as they should be), flavorful (mint and peanut sauce give them authentic flavor) and perfect for the end of a hot day.


One head of butter or bibb lettuce
1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
1 T sesame oil
1 cup sliced green onions, divided
½ cup chopped cilantro, divided
½ cup mint
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 T fresh chopped ginger
1 cup matchstick julienne-cut carrots
1 cup matchstick julienne-cut cucumber
¼ cup peanuts
Brown rice (optional)

Peanut-Hoisin Dipping Sauce:

¼ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup hoisin
1 minced shallot
1 T soy sauce
2 T lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil


To make the sauce, heat sesame oil over a small skillet. Add minced shallot; saute for 1-2 minutes. Add peanut butter, hoisin, and soy sauce; stir. Bring to a boil; let cool and add lime juice.

For the filling, heat a large skillet over medium heat; add sesame oil. Add ½ cup sliced green onions; saute 3-4 minutes. Add ground chicken, breaking it up into small pieces. Once browned, add soy sauce, ¼ cup cilantro, and ginger.

Slice carrots and cucumbers into matchstick pieces.

Separate lettuce leaves and shape into cups. Top lettuce with chicken mixture, followed by green onions, carrots, cucumber, cilantro, mint, and peanuts. Top with peanut sauce.

For a more complete meal, serve with brown rice.

Why Should You Eat This?

Lettuce cups are essentially the low-carb version of any type of wrap (and they can be used in any cuisine as a substitute for processed bread products: tortillas, bread, hamburger buns, injera, sesame pancakes). Of course, carbs aren’t inherently bad, but in dishes like these, they can add a lot of unnecessary carbs and calories. Using lettuce also allows the main flavors (mint, ginger, cilantro, lime, peanuts) to take the spotlight without being overpowered by doughy carbs.

Peanuts appear twice in this recipe – as a garnish and in the sauce. Peanuts add that unique Thai flavor, but they also add a huge dose of antioxidants: they actually boast the same antioxidant level as strawberries and blackberries. Two of these antioxidants are p-coumaric acid, which has been shown to reduce the level of carcinogenic activity, and resveratrol, which may reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. To boost these benefits, pick roasted peanuts (or roast them yourself): doing so increases their antioxidant power by 22%.