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Alternatives for the Top 5 Most Common Simple Carbs

Pastries, white bread, soda, candy bars, pasta… just a small sample of the foods we often crave.  Why do we daydream about chocolate chip cookies or a bowl of linguine?  Because they are full of simple carbs — sugars that quickly satisfy that biochemical desire for sweet.

What it breaks down to is the body’s addiction to sugar; a compulsion that comes from an addictive pattern of eating.  Sugar affects you physically, mentally and emotionally —  and is the culprit for many health issues.

How do you make sure that you are not ingesting too many simple carbs and what do you replace them with?

Keep in mind that simple carbs are usually overly processed and stripped of all their goodness.  Some may be enriched — but the fibre has been taken out, meaning that the release of sugar into the blood sugar is not regulated and spikes quickly.

Here is a list of the most common simple carbohydrates and some healthier substitutions:

White Rice

  • Brown Rice is a whole grain — meaning that it has not been refined and stripped of the fibre and nutrients that make it beneficial.
  • Quinoa is a naturally gluten-free seed.  It is considered to be a whole grain as well as one of the only complete protein plant foods.  Additionally, quinoa is chock-full of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
  • Wild Rice is actually a grass and found mostly in the upper freshwater lakes of Canada.  Like quinoa, it is also considered to be a complete protein containing many of the same nutrients.
  • Cauliflower can be *riced* by chopping into small pieces.  To retain the most nutritional value, prepare cauliflower by steaming instead of boiling.

White Flour

  • Almond Flour is a nutritionally-dense option.  There are some great resources online for baking with this tree nut flour.  Obviously, if you have an allergy, you need to steer clear of it.
  • Coconut Flour is a heat safe, stable flour.  It is high in fibre, protein and fat.  However, it is not a 1:1 ratio substitution.  It is best to use proven recipes than to experiment, as it is very expensive and experimentation may yield some less-than-desirable results.
  • Spelt Flour is high in protein and contains almost no gluten.  It can be used in almost all recipes calling for wheat flour.

There are dozens of alternative flours on the market — low-to-no gluten whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  Have fun experimenting with different recipes and figuring out what works best for you.


Though most sweeteners are considered to be simple carbs, there are alternatives that are more nutrient-dense than common white sugar.  Keep in mind that sweeteners should be kept to the bare minimum.

  • Palm Sugar (Coconut and Date) retains most of its nutrients.  It also contains a fibre called Inulin, which helps to slow blood glucose absorption.
  • Stevia has 150 times the sweetness of sugar, meaning that very little needs to be used. It has little to no effect on blood glucose. Though it’s distinct flavour does not make it a favourite for everyone, try experimenting with different brands for taste.
  • Xylitol has a number of 7 on the glycemic index, which is lower than most non-starchy vegetables.  It also has the added benefit of being good for your teeth!
  • Yacon Syrup comes from a tuberous plant.  It has a lower sugar level and tastes similar to molasses.

White Pasta

  • Whole or Sprouted Grain Pasta contains more fibre, nutrients and protein.  It digests more slowly than its white refined counterpart.
  • Zucchini can be made into noodles with a spiralizer or sliced into thin strips to be used in lasagna.
  • Spaghetti squash is a yellow winter squash that forms long spaghetti-like strands when cooked.

White Potatoes

Although this is considered to be a complex carbohydrate, it is very high in starch and works like a simple carb when eaten.  If you do eat white potatoes, limit your intake and always include the skin, as it adds to the amount of protein and dietary fibre (though not substantially).  Alternatives include: yams or sweet potatoes, cauliflower, squash, or parsnips — which can be mashed with cauliflower.

**If you have no idea where to start with these new options, start with a recipe you love and swap out some of the ingredients for the healthier option.