Healthspan Tip: Substitute Fruits and Veggies for Carbs in Your Favorite Dishes

We aren’t saying eat fewer carbs, but we are saying eat better carbs and more vegetables and fruits! Most Americans don’t meet the daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. You should, because plant-based compounds can help reduce inflammation and promote metabolic health, which is associated with longevity. Read on for mouthwatering tips on how to incorporate more low-carb plant-based ingredients into your favorite dishes.

Food and design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

This week, we are bringing you a guest blog post from one of our favorite LIFE app users and food bloggers. Nicole Brown is the co-founder (along with her husband, Chris) and CEO of the climbing and fitness brands LEF Climbing and Mosaic Climbing. Her favorite healthspan practices including rock climbing, hiking, intermittent fasting and eating a veritable smörgåsbord of fruits and vegetables. She also loves to travel, remodel homes and experiment in the kitchen.

Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

Nicole began Perpetual Projecting a few months ago as a creative outlet and motivational tool, predominantly in the realms of design, cooking, and wellness. We were inspired by her mouthwatering Instagram posts and blog food recipes and by her background in biomedical sciences, so we asked her to tell us more about how she fits so many life-extending vegetables and fruits into her diet.

Nicole has food allergies that force her to give up her once-favorite carbohydrate sources, including most breads, pasta and ice cream. However, she has used this as an opportunity to learn how to cook with more low-carb plant-based ingredients.

Guest blog post by Nicole Brown

Ah, the carbohydrate controversy… It rings a lot like similar controversies over the “food enemies of the moment,” whether fat, alcohol, coffee or sugar. If you caught LifeOmic’s Medium article titled “The Scientific Low-Down on Low-Carb” posted last week, you’re well ahead of the curve in your understanding of carbohydrates, when they are good and when they are not so good. Hopefully you’ve realized that none of the “food enemies” listed above are “bad” as long as they are consumed in moderation. I’m here to share a handful of ways you can do just that with carbs, by getting creative with your cooking ingredients.

The best way to eat healthy is the way that works for you (ok, and that also ideally includes a mix of fruits and vegetables). We are not all mirror images of one another, and that’s a good thing. The fact that a particular diet works for one of your your family members or a Facebook friend is not a guarantee that it’ll also work when transposed onto you. All of us have to experiment with various formulas to discover that equilibrium where we feel satiated and energetic, are meeting our health-related goals, and are able to sustain these new habits long term.

Intermittent fasting can throw a monkey wrench into your fine-tuned nutrition regimen. I was a perpetual snacker before I started practicing IF. I had been happy with a certain rhythm of eating for several years and I wasn’t keen on upending my eating schedule. It has taken me about a year of trial and error to find the right balance of avoiding foods I’m allergic to and fasting on a schedule that meets my energy needs and weight goals.

Based on my eating style, my body has a preference for a high-volume diet that incorporates a veritable ton of healthy fats and fiber, a reasonable portion of carbohydrates from whole-food sources, and a small amount of meat. This combination usually results in a more consistent energy pattern for me, along with better sleep, fewer cravings and a healthy weight range. Daily 16 to 18 hour fasts are now a sustainable habit for me. Hunger now has less control over my emotions. I suspect intermittent fasting and I will be lifelong friends.

Regardless of whether your goal is to lose weight, sneak in more vegetables, or follow a healthy low-carb diet, I’ve listed a few of my own tricks below for adding more fiber into your meals. As always, work with your healthcare team to tailor a diet that suits your health and wellness goals and is one that you can stick with long term. Happy cooking!

Please shoot me a note if you try any of these tips! You can catch me over at perpetualprojecting.com or via Instagram @perpetualprojecting. Eat well and enjoy!

Walking back from the farmer’s market. Design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

The Five Lower-Carbohydrate Substitutes I Use Most Frequently

Zucchini noodles or heaven on a fork? Food and design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

High carbohydrate ingredient: Pasta

Lower carbohydrate substitute: Zucchini

Zucchini is a wildly versatile vegetable. Its taste is very mild and even a bit sweet when baked. It works wonderfully as a pasta substitute and contains drastically fewer calories per ounce. The one thing to be aware of when working with zucchini is, unlike pasta, it releases moisture instead of absorbing it. While not a problem in a dish like spaghetti, a super wet lasagna is less than ideal. To mitigate excessive moisture, try sauteing or baking your prepped zucchini (whether that be in the form of spaghetti or lasagna noodles) until just barely tender, then wringing it out with a cheesecloth once it has cooled.

Other ways to incorporate it:

  • Roast it and use as a substitute for beans in hummus
  • Boil it to replace potatoes in soup, especially pureed soups
  • Shred to replace a portion of flour in pizza dough

Recipe suggestions:

Try substituting cauliflower for rice! Yum. Food and design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

High carbohydrate ingredient: Rice

Lower carbohydrate substitute: Cauliflower

Cauliflower and I have been friends for a long, long time. I love it dipped in hummus, and I’ll pop it in my mouth like popcorn after roasting it with oil, salt, and pepper until it’s deeply browned. I’ve used it to replace beans, in place of potatoes, instead of pasta… it’s a workhorse. One of our favorite recipes is a mock fried rice utilizing riced cauliflower (which translates to raw cauliflower blended in a food processor until similar in size to rice). It absorbs flavors well when adequately prepared, although it is certainly a stronger flavor than zucchini.

Other ways to incorporate it:

  • Roast it and replace half a serving of pasta with cauliflower florets in mac and cheese
  • Bake and blend it to replace beans in falafel
  • Bake and mash it to replace a portion of potatoes in mashed potatoes or potato salad

Recipe suggestions:

Try using applesauce instead of white sugar in your next desert. Food and design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

High carbohydrate ingredient: Sugar

Lower carbohydrate substitute: Applesauce

Note* — Make sure you purchase unsweetened applesauce. The only ingredient should be apples. You can also bake apples and toss them in a blender or food processor to make your own applesauce.

Cut back on sugar in baked goods with applesauce! Sub ¼ cup of sugar for ¼ cup of applesauce in your next quick bread or cookie recipe. I have gotten to the point where I no longer use refined sugar in any of my recipes, instead reaching for applesauce or squash puree. Go slow with this one while you adjust to the different flavor and texture it imparts. I haven’t tried a conventional cookie recipe with applesauce replacing 100% of the sugar called for, but I have a hunch it wouldn’t turn out. If you’re interested in going that route, understand that it’s a state of constant trial and error in order to achieve a desirable consistency and flavor profile.

How to use it:

  • Substitute ¼ cup of sugar for ¼ cup of applesauce in your next dessert recipe
  • Replace brown sugar with applesauce in your next barbecue marinade
  • Use it in place of a tablespoon or two of oil in pancakes or waffles

Recipe suggestions:

PALEO ALMOND WAFFLES! Enough said. Food and design by Nicole Brown. Photo by Chris Shotwell.

High carbohydrate ingredient: Grain flour

Lower carbohydrate substitute: Nut flour

I still bake with conventional whole wheat flour when making breads for my husband, but I’ve had to step away from the grain as a result of an allergy. I lean entirely on nut flours when baking for myself. I adore nuts and don’t mind the texture of nut-based cookies or breads, but it is certainly an acquired taste. Gluten, the ingredient that yields the soft, spongy texture in conventional breads cannot really be replicated with any other ingredient. As a result, nut-flour based recipes often require a higher ratio of leavener and binder. It pays to go into a recipe expecting to flop a few times if you’re looking to replace grain flour with nut flour. That’s part of the adventure!

How to incorporate it:

  • See what happens when you replace ¼ cup of whole wheat flour with ¼ cup of nut flour in your next quick bread
  • Instead of breadcrumbs use almond meal to make baked ‘fried’ chicken
  • Combine almond meal with egg, cauliflower or zucchini, and psyllium husk to create a grain-free pizza crust

Recipe suggestions:

High carbohydrate ingredient: Beans

Lower carbohydrate substitute: Mushrooms

Fall is just around the corner, and you know what that will bring… Chili season! Lighten things up by chopping mushrooms and foregoing a portion of the beans called for in your favorite chili recipe. Mushrooms not only impart fantastic, dense flavor, but their texture is substantial. As a result, they’re often utilized as a meat substitute as well. Mushrooms can be pureed into soups to create a silkier texture, similar to pureed bean soups.

How to incorporate them:

  • Replace a portion of beans with mushrooms at a ratio of 1:1 in a vegetarian ‘meatloaf’
  • Add fiber to your meatballs by integrating shiitake or button mushrooms
  • Reduce your serving of pasta noodles on spaghetti night and incorporate mushrooms instead

Recipe suggestions:


Learn more about and track your intake of healthspan-boosting fruits and veggies with LifeOmic’s LIFE Extend app! Pre-register for LIFE Extend and try intermittent fasting with our LIFE Fasting Tracker today!