Choosing the right side dishes for your low-carb diet might mean the difference between pound-shedding success and falling into a diet-busting series of constant cheat days. With some planning, you can find plenty of tasty options that will leave you satisfied enough to resist any cravings for starchy sides.
Cauliflower rice, made from bits of cauliflower shredded in a food processor to resemble rice and then cooked in a microwave, is a healthy low-carb alternative to rice. Because the shape and texture are similar to real rice, cauliflower rice is a good substitute in dishes such as beans and rice, stir-fried dishes ladled over rice and curries served with white rice. You can also replace the rice in your recipe with other grains lower in carbohydrates or higher in fiber, which is counted on the nutrition label as a carbohydrate but is not actually digested. These replacement grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat groats, wild rice or barley, may be an alternative if used in moderation.
Adding extra servings of vegetables in place of rice or any other carb-heavy side dish is a surefire way to decrease your meal's carb count while increasing the total nutrient level of your meal. You can boil, roast or steam vegetables and serve them next to the main dish or process the vegetables to resemble starchier grain-based alternatives. Cauliflower and turnips can both be boiled, drained and mashed into a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. Zucchini can be shaved into thin strips to resemble pasta, and spaghetti squash has a natural pasta-like texture and shape. Slices of eggplant can also be used as a base for some dishes.
Legumes, including beans, soybeans, chickpeas and lentils, can add a satisfying dimension to your meals. Because they are high in fiber and tend to be low on the glycemic index, they work well for low-carb diets. Mushrooms are another side dish that can be served alongside meat and vegetables or as an ingredient in casseroles or other cooked dishes.
Traditional rice doesn't necessarily have to be completely off limits in a low-carb diet. Most low-carb diets allow for 50 to 150 grams of carbohydrates each day, so a small amount of rice can be part of this total. Choose brown rice or black rice, also known as Black Japonica or Forbidden rice, to increase the fiber and nutrient content of your meal.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.