Low-Carb Winter Veggies

Learn how to substitute starchy foods with satisfying low-carb veggies that pair well with hearty winter dishes

Ask The Nutritionist

by Melissa Diane Smith

Spaghetti squashQ: I ate too many baked goods, breads, and potatoes during the holidays and ended up gaining 15 pounds! I am more successful at losing weight when I cut back on carbs, but it’s easier for me to do this in the summer (when I just naturally crave salads and raw veggies). It’s freezing here in the winter, and all I want to eat are warm, hearty meals. Can you suggest a few satisfying low-carb vegetables that I can put on my winter menu?  —Sue M., Minneapolis

A: No matter what time of year it is, the general idea of cutting carbs to lose weight should be to replace grain products and starchy vegetables with lower-carb, non-starchy vegetables. Here are a few of my favorite low-carb foods to use as ingredients in wintertime meals.

Fake ‘Em Out with “Faux” Spaghetti

Spaghetti squash is a unique low-carb vegetable that makes an excellent substitution for pasta. To prepare, bake it whole or halved (remove seeds first) in the oven, 375ºF for about 40 minutes. Or cut the squash in half, remove seeds, and microwave (covered with plastic wrap) for approximately 4 to 7 minutes depending on size. Use two forks to loosen the spaghetti-like strands. Serve the “pasta” on plates and top with organic meatballs and light marinara sauce, a pesto sauce, or sautéed chicken or shrimp and vegetables. An average spaghetti squash makes 4–6 servings, and you can freeze leftovers. Spaghetti squash is rich in fiber and vitamins B6 and C.

Use Your (Sea) Noodle

Made from water, kelp noodles are a combination of the sea vegetable kelp and sodium alginate (sodium salt that is extracted from a brown seaweed). Made by the Sea Tangle Noodle Company, kelp noodles have a non fishy, completely neutral taste, and they pick up the flavors of whatever dish they’re cooked with. They’re rich in iodine, which is crucial for thyroid health, and they’re almost completely calorie- and carbohydrate-free.

They’re also easy to use: Just open the bag, drain, add them at the last minute to soups or stir-fries, or toss them with sliced vegetables in sauces such as your favorite low-carb Asian sauce.

Get Creative with Cauliflower

This snow-white vegetable is a boon to those who are cutting carbs because it can be used to make two low-carb staples: cauliflower “rice” and mashed cauliflower, which are great substitutes for traditional carb-packed rice and mashed potatoes.

To make cauliflower “rice,” use a food processor with a shredding blade to shred chunks of a head of cauliflower until it starts to look like rice, then steam it for a few minutes in a bit of broth, or sauté it in organic coconut oil, butter, or olive oil about five minutes until done. Top it with a sauce such as a curry sauce, an Asian vegetable and meat stir fry, or even beef stew. One medium head of cauliflower makes approximately 6 cups of cauliflower rice.

The basic recipe for mashed cauliflower starts with steamed cauliflower, salt, and olive oil or organic butter. Variations include adding organic milk or unsweetened almond milk, cheese, herbs, and roasted garlic, and sometimes other low-carb cooked vegetables, such as celery root.

Keep It Simple with Kale

This dark-green vegetable is a nutrient-packed superfood. In one test, kale rated No. 1 among vegetables in terms of its antioxidant/phytochemical power. It provides seven times the beta-carotene of broccoli, and 10 times as much lutein, an eye-protective antioxidant known to help guard against macular degeneration. Plus, it’s loaded with iron, vitamin K, and calcium.

Kale is also easy to make. It can be steamed, sautéed, simmered into soups and stews, or roasted or dehydrated into kale chips. For a quick wintertime meal, sauté pieces of kale and chopped garlic in organic coconut oil, then add cooked organic chicken pieces and salt and pepper to taste. The meal takes less than 10 minutes to make, yet it is hearty and satisfying, and gives you lots of staying power.

Mix It Up with Mushrooms

mushroomsThese tasty morsels are very low in carbs but rich in vitamin D, selenium, and  other nutrients. Sauté them in extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil with onions or garlic, and spread over steak, a grass-fed burger, or chicken. Tuck them into omelets; add them to stir-fries; or use them in a pot roast or stew. Roast portobella caps in the oven for 12 minutes and use them as bun substitutes—or stuff with a mixture of turkey sausage, cheese, low-carb vegetables, and seasonings.

Copyright 2016 Melissa Diane Smith

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You’ve heard of carbs, but have you heard of net carbs? Net carbs represent the total carbohydrate content of a food, minus its fiber content. It’s a useful tool for people who are trying to curb carbs to lose weight. Compare the net carbs of half-cup servings of foods below to the 15–45 grams of net carbs found in bread, potatoes, and pasta. You can clearly see how much lower in carbs these selected vegetables are (plus, they’re higher in nutrients!)

Kelp noodles                                0

Button mushrooms (raw)            .8

Cauliflower (cooked)                   1.7

Kale (cooked)                                2.4

Portobello mushroom (cooked)   2.6

Spaghetti squash (cooked)             4

Adapted from Atkins.com: Phase One Overview: Beginning a Low Carb Diet

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