If you’re intrigued by the debate about the role of saturated fat in heart disease or convinced by evidence pointing to starchy carbohydrates as the more likely culprit, you’re probably thinking of trying a lower-carb diet.
And like many others, you’re probably confused about how and where to begin.
One approach is to follow a strict regime such as Atkins. This is a good solution if you need to lose a lot of weight or would prefer to eat within a clearly-defined framework. But for those of you who simply want to make better choices starting now, substituting these suggested swaps for your usual starchy staples should set you on the right track.
Counter intuitively—because of their sweet flavor—the orange flesh of the sweet potato contains half the amount of starch of the flesh of the more familiar white potato. Plus, it contains many more times the vitamin A of its pallid counterpart. It tastes truly delicious too: many of the toppings which work well on a jacket potato are even better on a sweet potato.
For those of you who can’t see a way forward without your beloved white spuds, help is at hand. Allowing your jacket potato to cool after it has been baked (and then reheating it) can transform the starch so that its impact on your body is lessened.
When you’ve a yen for mashed potato, boiled and pureed celeriac fits the lower-carb bill nicely. It has a silky texture and an agreeable flavor reminiscent of celery, both of which complement chicken and pork.
But sometimes a less flavorsome accompaniment is called for. Fresh or even frozen cauliflower, steamed and whipped with a little plain yogurt, is the perfect stand-in for mash.
Bread And Pastries
There are low-carb breads out there, of course, but their satisfactoriness seems to vary widely. A better solution for die-hard fans of the sandwich lunch is the open-faced sandwich. Put it together when you’re ready to eat to avoid mess, and load up your bread with meat, cheese, avocado and hard-boiled egg instead of that second bread slice.
When you’d really love a croissant or Danish, a quick breakfast treat is the Atkins-sanctioned ‘Muffin in a Minute’ . Made from ground flax seed—available from major health food outlets and some supermarkets—this little beauty is as tasty as low-carb gets and will set you up until lunchtime.
Lately there’s been a big buzz about ‘miracle noodles’: pasta made in all shapes and sizes from konjac, the root of a Japanese yam. Although it’s an interesting product with some health benefits (practically no calories and the ability to suppress appetite), don’t expect konjac pasta to replace your usual bed of tagliatelle. Instead, mix it with curry or chili con carne when you want to make smaller portions more filling.
A far better pasta substitute is ‘noodles’ made from vegetables like zucchini, carrot and spaghetti squash. Invest in a spiralizer if you think you’ll be making these a regular feature of your diet.
For a non-radical rice substitute, go straight to quinoa and do not pass go. Not only is quinoa one of the only vegetable sources of the essential amino acids your body requires to manufacture protein, its fibre content causes whatever carbohydrate it does contain to enter your bloodstream slowly. Wherever you might use white or brown rice, quinoa works well.
When you’d prefer to keep carbs to the absolute minimum, try cauliflower rice. This time, pulse frozen or fresh cauliflower florets in a food processor so that they’re chopped into rice-sized fragments, then microwave until done.
If you’d like to eat more protein, fat and vegetables and less starch, smart swaps are the way to go. Cutting carbohydrates needn’t involve sticking to a strict regime. Start with these suggestions and you’ll soon arrive at the right lower-carb lifestyle for you.