Healthy, Low-Carb Substitutes for Better Glucose Levels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Do you find it hard to keep your blood glucose level in the healthy range after meals? Are you confused about how certain foods will affect your blood glucose? While it’s true that each person with diabetes has a unique blood glucose response after eating, we know that certain foods affect it more than others do.

Effect of nutrients on blood glucose

Of the three major nutrients that provide your body with calories — protein, fats, and carbohydrate –the only one that causes blood glucose levels to spike is carbohydrate. Carbs are found in many foods, including starchy items like potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. Your body breaks down the food’s starch into glucose (sugar), which enters the blood stream and causes the blood glucose to rise. Although some carbs are needed for energy, most people consume more than they need. For people with diabetes, elevated blood glucose after meals can lead to complications down the road.

Servings sizes for grains and starchy vegetables

A one-cup serving of pasta, potatoes, rice, or cereal is about the size of a tennis ball. Eating a larger portion of carbs often leads to high blood glucose readings one to two hours after a meal. This can occur with whole grains as well as foods made from white flour. One option to lower carb intake is to replace these foods with non-starchy vegetables.

Benefits of vegetables vs. grains

Whole grains provide some benefits. They’re high in fiber, which keeps you feeling full longer and helps to keep blood glucose from rising quickly after a meal. However, non-starchy vegetables also contain fiber and have many nutritional benefits while containing far fewer carbs and calories than grains do. Eating non-starchy vegetables can result in better blood glucose control and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Replacing grains with vegetables

1. Zucchini:

Zucchini is very low in carbs and calories, a good source of vitamin B6 and riboflavin, and provides more than one-third of your vitamin C needs in a one-cup serving.

Ideas for substitutions:
• Instead of using sheets of pasta in lasagna, use thinly sliced zucchini
• Julienne the zucchini to use it as a substitute for penne pasta

2. Eggplant:

Eggplant is rich in fiber and contains phytonutrients (special nutrients found in the pigments of plants) that keep your body’s cells healthy. The deeper the color, the more phytonutrients the vegetable contains.

Ideas for substitutions:
• Use in place of bread for a meatball sub sandwich
• Use slices as the base for mini pizzas

3. Cauliflower:

Cauliflower is very high in vitamin C; in fact, one cup supplies more than half the vitamin C you need for the whole day. It’s also rich in vitamin K and folate, a B vitamin needed for maintaining healthy red blood cells.

Ideas for substitutions:
• “Fauxtatoes” (cook cauliflower and mash like potatoes)
• Cauli-rice (grate cauliflower into rice-like pieces, then boil or stir-fry)

4. Chayote:

Although chayote is in the fruit family, it has a taste and texture similar to summer squash and is often cooked. It’s much lower in carbs than most fruit, with only 8 grams per cup, half of which come from fiber. Chayote is also a good source of vitamin C.

Ideas for substitutions:
• Use in place of potatoes for scalloped potatoes
• Use as a substitute for baked apples

Replacing grains and potatoes with vegetables could have a strong impact on your blood glucose. If you’re taking insulin or certain medicines, you may need a lower dosage (if this lifestyle change causes your blood glucose to decrease), so be sure to speak with your doctor or diabetes educator about this.

What about shirataki noodles?

Shirataki noodles are an Asian item created from glucomann, a type of fiber. They contain no calories and less than one gram of carbohydrate (from the fiber) in each serving. Since shirataki noodles don’t contain any nutrients, be sure to add vegetables to stir-fries and other shirataki noodle dishes.


Substitution Table
Replace With Carbohydrates Saved Calories Saved
1 cup cooked pasta 1 cup cooked zucchini 33 grams 190
1/2 submarine roll 1 cup cooked eggplant 32 grams 144
1 cup cooked rice 1 cup cooked cauliflower 39 grams 188
1 cup cooked potatoes 1 cup cooked chayote 23 grams 96

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(5 Articles)

Franziska Spritzler, RD CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who believes in a Low-Carbohydrate Lifestyle. She has several published articles on the benefits of low carb diets in relation to Diabetes and has a blog called ’Low Carb Dietitian’ at

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