“Oh my gosh! Once I start eating pizza, pasta, or any other carb, I can’t stop eating it,” my friend John declared, as he rolled onto his side to nurse his post pizza binge food baby. “It’s like I’m addicted or something.”
While John may have been acting a touch melodramatic, there’s a very good chance that he may be a semi-addict of sorts. A small study published by Chemical Senses in August 2016 discovered that the human tongue can taste not only sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory flavors but starchy flavors, too. You know, the flavors associated with carb-heavy things like bread and pasta. To come to this finding, researchers gave volunteers a range of carbohydrate solutions. And interestingly, test subjects could make out starchy flavors even after they’d been given compounds that block the taste receptors that detect sweet flavors.
“I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs,” said Juyun Lim, a researcher on the study. “Sugar tastes great in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a small amount of the chocolate—but you’d choose the bread in larger amounts or as a daily staple.”
While starch hasn’t met all of the requirements to officially be considered a primary taste, one thing is for sure: people are hardwired to detect and have an affinity toward carbs. That’s why it’s so darn hard to eat less of the stuff. Since we know just how real the struggle can be, we asked some of the nation’s top diet and nutrition experts for their go-to carb-cutting hacks. Whether you’re trying to dial back on the refined stuff, or just want to eat less of the nutrient altogether, we’ve got plenty of tips that can help. After you’ve mentally filed away some of the tips you think would work for you, get all of your other carb-cutting questions answered in our special report, 50 Questions About Carbs—Answered!
Try Banana-Based Pancakes
“If you enjoy pancakes for breakfast, ditch the conventional, grain-filled kind for one made solely from eggs and mashed banana. Simply combine the two ingredients and cook them on a griddle. You won’t miss the grains.” — Lauren Slayton, MS RD, founder of Foodtrainers
For more low-carb meal ideas, check out these 20 Low Carb Recipes You’ll Love!
Realize Sugar Is a Carb
“Many individuals don’t realize that natural sugars like honey and maple syrup contain just as many carbohydrates as refined white sugar. Limiting these sugars is key in reducing the number of total carbohydrates in an individual’s eating plan.” — Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, author of Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook
For more intel on the best and worse sweet stuff for you, check out our special report, Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked!
Shop for Strained
“Enjoy Siggi’s Icelandic yogurt or plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit to avoid the extra sugar in fruit flavored and conventional yogurts. Greek and Icelandic yogurts are strained which causes them to have less lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in dairy.” — Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN
Swap Jam for Fresh Fruit
“When making a PB&J sandwich, ax the jam and jelly, two sources of processed fruit sugar, and mash up fruit like raspberries or banana instead.” —Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Focus on the Time
“I like to tell clients to consume carbohydrate rich foods such as rice, pasta, and bread earlier in the day when they’re most active. Closer to bed I advise that they focus on veggies, proteins and healthy fats. This way, clients can eat less of the nutrient, without feeling deprived of carbs.” —Yasi Ansari, MS, RD
Get More Sleep
“Skipping out on proper sleep can cause the body’s levels of the hormone, leptin to drop. This sends a message to the brain that there is a shortage of food and increases your appetite, making starchy comfort food more appealing. Do your body and waist a favor and make sleep an important part of your arsenal against high calorie, carb-rich comfort food.” — Jay Cardiello, celebrity fitness and nutrition expert and star of ABC’s “My Diet Is Better Than Yours”
Make the most of your nightly slumber with these 20 Surprising Ways to Lose Weight In Your Sleep
Say Ta-Ta to Toast
“Instead of pairing toast or bread with my morning omelet, I fill it with tons of vegetables and top it with salsa.” — Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
“Simply skipping store-bought fare and creating your own food can significantly lower the carbohydrates in your meals. Examples include making your own salad dressings (combine olive oil and lemon with your fave herbs), subbing jarred marinara with cooked fresh tomatoes, and avoiding flavored yogurts (grab plain yogurt and top with berries).” — Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, author of Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook
Eat a High-Protein Breakfast
“Addressing the source of carb cravings can help create better control of when you choose to eat them. One of the best ways to reduce physical cravings is to eat a high protein breakfast. This helps to improve post-meal satiety and prevent the afternoon energy crash and subsequent sugar craving.” —Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CDN
Get an Alternative Crunch
“When dining at a Mexican restaurant ask for crudité with your guac instead of tortilla chips. Veggies are low in carbs but high in fiber and get just as much guac in your mouth as a chip does, with a lot less fat and calories.” —Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN
Order on the Rocks
“When I order alcoholic beverages, I shy away from fancy mixed cocktails, which are typically rich in sugar and carbs, and stick to whiskey on the rocks or a glass of wine.” —Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
For more tips on indulging without falling off track with your weight loss plan, check out these 20 Tips for Choosing Healthy Alcohol Drinks!
Try the Crowding Out Method
“Instead of thinking about the fact that you’re trying to eat fewer carbs, focus on how to add more veggies—which are low in carbohydrates—to your plate. By doing this, you’re naturally increasing your fiber intake which boosts satiety and thwarts carb craving.” —Yasi Ansari, MS, RD
Ditch Artificial Sweeteners
“Sugar alternatives and products that contain sugar alternatives (like diet sodas and sugar-free gum) prime the body for a surge of sugar without actually providing it. When the hormonal system is prepared for a flux of sugar without receiving one, it manifests as a craving. Dialing back on artificial sweeteners can help ward off carb cravings and, over time, help you consume less of the nutrient.” — Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CDN, functional medicine dietitian
Examine Your Energy Bar
“Skip energy bars that have dried fruit in them. They add a hefty dose of carbs, thanks to all of their sugar. Look for bars that are made from mostly nuts and seeds to get all the energy you need without the carbs.” — Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN
“If I cook something for dinner that typically gets paired with carbs—like meatballs and burgers—I’ll typically come up with ways to enjoy the leftovers without pairing it with something starchy. I often find myself simply warming up the meat and tossing it over a big salad for lunch the next day.” — Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
Make Celery Your Friend
When I’m in the mood for something creamy, I’ll put peanut butter on celery or apple slices instead of bread, crackers or English muffins. This helps me get in more fruits and vegetables, and it helps cut back on calories and simple carbs.” — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios
Swap Shells for Leaves
“One of my favorite carb-cutting hacks is to use lettuce leaves instead of taco shells. Fill them with meat, guac, salsa and veggies, and you’ll never miss the shell or tortilla!” — Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN
“I like to curb my nighttime sugar cravings by eating a small frozen banana blended with 1 tablespoon nut butter and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. It’s a smart alternative to calorie-dense, sugar added ice cream.” — Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN
For more ways to make “nicecream”, try these Mouthwatering Frozen Banana Ice Cream Recipes
Get a Spiralizer or Veggetti
“A zoodle will never be a noodle, but it’s not a bad alternative. To make zoodles (zucchini noodle) and coodles (carrot noodles), I like to use a tool called the Veggetti, which I find to be far easier to use than a spiralizer.— Lauren Slayton, MS RD, founder of Foodtrainers
Buy your Veggetti here!
Load Up on Cauliflower
“When trying to cut carbs, I suggest looking for veggie alternatives to your favorite carbohydrate staples. Instead of rice, for example, you can make riced cauliflower. This has the same consistency as rice but has fewer carbohydrates and is very rich in fiber. You can also use cauliflower to make a gluten-free pizza crust. Spaghetti squash is a healthy alternative to pasta. When you pair the stringy innards with homemade meatballs, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese, it really feels like you’re eating pasta.” —Yasi Ansari, MS, RD
To whip up a hearty spaghetti squash dinner, check out Julianne Hough’s Simple Slimmed Down Spaghetti. It’s seriously delicious!
“When you’re dining out, eat your sandwiches or burgers open-faced. Most restaurants serve white buns, which are simple sugars, so you’ll cut your empty carbs in half and still enjoy your meal.” — Torey Armul, MS, RDN, CSSD, National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
For more ways to order smart—and stay slim—check out these 35 Tips to Eat Healthy at Restaurants.
Or Ditch the Bun Altogether
“I love eating my carbs, but when I am trying to cut down a bit I drop the bun from my turkey burger and just eat the burger, lettuce and tomato. Often times, I cut it all up and make a small turkey salad with balsamic vinaigrette.” — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios