Zucchini Noodles in a bowl

10 Fun Swaps for Pasta and Rice

One of the most important pieces of advice I give my patients is, “Don’t sacrifice—swap!” That’s because there’s a delicious and healthy alternative for every high-carb, unhealthy dish. All it takes is a little creativity, and you can enjoy any food you like.

For instance, if you’re pining for spaghetti and meatballs right now—or for fried rice or a cool Asian noodle salad—you can go right ahead and have it. It’s just a matter of swapping out rice and grain-based noodles for yummy, low-carb alternatives. Here are ten of my favorites. If you're interested in more food swaps, check out my Food Swap Guide!

Zucchini noodles.

Everyone loves “zoodles,” and they’re easy to make with a spiralizer, julienne peeler, vegetable peeler,or mandolin. I like to make my zoodles with both zucchini and yellow squash, for more color. For extra flavor, saute your zoodles gently with garlic in a little olive oil before adding them to your sauce. In addition to making zoodles for spaghetti, you can make pappardelle-style zoodles by using a peeler to slice one-inch- wide strips. And thinly sliced zucchini “coins” make a great substitute for lasagna noodles; here’s a good recipe from Sarah Fragoso.

Cauliflower rice.

This takes just minutes to make, and—like regular rice—it’s incredibly versatile. Simply pulse cauliflower florets quickly in a food processor until the pieces are the size of rice grains, and then mix them with your favorite flavorings. Here’s a fun cauliflower “fried rice” recipe from Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Cookbook:


Prep Time: 5 minutes • Cook Time: 10 minutes • Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 scallions, very thinly sliced (whites and greens kept separate)
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons coconut aminos
  • 1⁄2 cup mung bean sprouts

In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower florets until they resemble small grains of rice. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the scallion whites, carrot, and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring constantly, until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Push the cauliflower mixture to the sides, leaving the center clear. Add the eggs and scramble until fully cooked, about 2 minutes. Stir everything together, then stir in the coconut aminos, scallion greens, and sprouts. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti squash noodles.

These are packed with powerful nutrients, and they have a mild flavor that blends well with any sauce. They’re especially fun to make with kids, who love scooping the strands out of the squash. Here’s my recipe for rich, warming Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs.

Sweet potato noodles.

Spiralize sweet potatoes, and you get a firm, slightly sweet noodle that holds up well in soups and broths. Here’s a great recipe from Paleo Comfort Foods that pairs sweet potato noodles with a spicy, creamy pepper sauce.

Celeriac (celery root) noodles.

Believe it or not, those ugly celery roots—which some people compare to the mandrakes in Harry Potter—can turn into beautiful noodles. Here’s an awesome recipe for Celeriac Noodles with Parsley Pesto from my friend Mark Sisson.

Broccoli noodles.

The florets on broccoli always get the attention… but don’t toss those stems! Instead, spiralize them and use them as the base for a yummy salad. Here’s a cool recipe for Broccoli Stem Noodles with Ginger-Sesame Dressing from All Day I Dream About Food.

Cucumber noodles.

If you’re a fan of cold, refreshing noodle salads, you’ll love these—and all you need to make them is a spiralizer or julienne peeler. Here’s a wonderful recipe for Cold Cucumber Sesame Noodles from my friend Melissa Joulwan.

Parsnip noodles.

This is another great option if you’re pining for Asian-style noodles. Try them out in this recipe for Crispy Fried Parsnip Noodles from Comfort Bites Blog.

Sweet potato gnocchi.

When I said that there’s a healthy substitute for everything, I meant everything—even gnocci! Check out these adorable little bites from Paleo Pumpkin. (They also call for cassava flour, which is made from yucca root and is a healthier non-grain alternative to regular flour.)


If you want to transform meat and sauce into a one-pan meal, try replacing pasta or rice with either chile peppers or bell peppers. For instance, check out this Chile Relleno Breakfast Casserole from Popular Paleo. And here’s my stuffed pepper recipe from Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Cookbook — a family favorite:


Prep Time: 15 minutes • Cook Time: 25 minutes • Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground bison or lean ground beef
  • 4 bell peppers (any color), tops cut off and chopped, cores removed
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
  • 1 chipotle in adobo (optional), finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon Celtic or pink Himalayan salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat the oven to 375°F. In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the bison or beef and cook, stirringoccasionally and breaking it up with a spoon, until just barely cooked through, about 5 minutes.

If the skillet seems dry, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the chopped pepper tops,tomatoes, onion, zucchini, chipotle (if using), garlic, cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper. Cook,

stirring occasionally, until the bell pepper and onion are soft and the tomatoes have cooked down, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, place the bell peppers in an ovenproof 9-inch pie plate or 8x8 baking dish. (If the peppers don’t stand up, carefully shave a bit off the bottoms, without cutting through, so they’re level.)

Divide the meat mixture among the peppers. Pour ½ cup water in the bottom of the dish, cover, and bake until the peppers are softened and the tops are browned, about 30 minutes. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.


When you switch out pasta and rice for alternatives like these, you’ll get all of the flavor (and more), along with tons more nutrition.

What you won’t get is a boatload of carbs that wind up on your belly. If you ask me, that’s a pretty awesome tradeoff — so promise me that you’ll give these easy, delicious swaps a try!