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A Comprehensive Guide to Low-Carb Alternatives to Rice, Bulgur, Couscous, and Quinoa

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Quick Summary tl;dr

This comprehensive guide provides an overview of various low-carb alternatives to traditional grains like rice, bulgur, couscous, and quinoa. It discusses the benefits of choosing low-carb grain alternatives, including their lower calorie content, higher fiber and nutrient levels, and the opportunity they offer to incorporate more vegetables into meals.

The guide explores several types of low-carb grain alternatives, such as cauliflower rice, broccoli rice, shirataki rice, and Palmini rice as alternatives to rice; cauliflower bulgur and chopped nuts as alternatives to bulgur; cauliflower couscous, broccoli couscous, and lupini flakes as alternatives to couscous; and hemp hearts as an alternative to quinoa.

The article also provides tips on how to prepare and cook these low-carb grain alternatives and shares a variety of recipes that use these alternatives. It also offers advice on store-bought low-carb grain alternatives, emphasizing the importance of reading labels carefully to avoid hidden starches or unhealthy additives.

Table of Contents

If you're following a low-carb or gluten-free diet, you might find yourself missing the comforting taste and texture of traditional grains like rice, bulgur, couscous, and quinoa. But don't despair! There are plenty of low-carb grain alternatives that can satisfy your cravings without derailing your diet. Plus, they are all gluten-free!

Before we dive in, it's worth noting that this guide focuses on alternatives to grains typically used in meals. If you're looking for low-carb alternatives to flour and other foods used for baking, stay tuned for our upcoming guide dedicated to low-carb and gluten-free baking.

For those interested in other low-carb alternatives, be sure to check out our existing guides on Low-Carb Thickeners and Low-Carb Pasta Alternatives. These guides provide a wealth of information on how to enjoy your favorite dishes while keeping your carb intake in check.

Adopting a low-carb diet has been linked to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, improved heart health, and better blood sugar control. With these delicious and nutritious grain alternatives, you can enjoy all the benefits of a low-carb diet without sacrificing your favorite grain-based dishes.

Why Choose Low-Carb Grain Alternatives?

Choosing low-carb grain alternatives can help you stick to your diet without feeling deprived. These alternatives are often lower in calories and higher in fiber and nutrients than traditional grains. Plus, they offer a fun and delicious way to incorporate more vegetables into your meals.

Whether you're a seasoned low-carb dieter or just starting your journey, these grain alternatives can make your transition easier and more enjoyable. Depending on your preference and your available preparation time, you can choose the right type of grain alternative to fit your lifestyle.

Types of Low-Carb Grain Alternatives

Let's explore some of the most popular low-carb grain alternatives that can satisfy your cravings while keeping your carb intake in check:

Low-Carb Alternatives to Rice

Cauliflower Rice: Cauliflower rice is made by pulsing cauliflower florets in a food processor until they reach a rice-like consistency. It's a great low-carb, low-calorie alternative to traditional rice, and it pairs well with a variety of dishes.

Broccoli Rice: Similar to cauliflower rice, broccoli rice is made by processing broccoli florets into small, rice-like pieces. It's a nutrient-dense alternative that adds a vibrant green color to your dishes.

Shirataki Rice: Made from the konjac yam, shirataki rice is almost zero calorie and zero carb. It's a bit more slippery and chewy than regular rice, but it's a great base for strong flavors. It's important to note that while it's zero-carb, it also has no nutrients, so it should be used in moderation.

Palmini Rice: Derived from hearts of palm, Palmini rice is a low-carb alternative to traditional rice. It has a texture similar to rice and a very mild flavor, similar to marinated artichokes, making it a versatile option for many dishes.

Other Vegetables: Almost any firm vegetables can be used as an alternative to rice when grated or finely chopped. Zucchini, cabbage, butternut squash, turnip, celeriac, pumpkin, or even spaghetti squash (unless mushy) can be used in recipes that call for rice.

Low-Carb Alternatives to Bulgur

Cauliflower Bulgur: Just like cauliflower rice, cauliflower can also be used as a bulgur substitute. By pulsing the cauliflower to a slightly larger grain size, you can mimic the texture of bulgur for a low-carb alternative. For firm, crunchy, larger-sized grains, consider using peeled and finely chopped cauliflower stalks. Other viable options include broccoli stalks and kohlrabi.

Nuts: Most chopped nuts can be used in salads to replace bulgur. They'll provide a crunch as well as nutritional boost. Remember that nuts are high in calories and fat, so they should be used in moderation. Also, some people may have allergies to certain nuts, so always check with your guests before using them in your dishes.

Low-Carb Alternatives to Couscous

Cauliflower Couscous: By pulsing cauliflower in a food processor until it reaches a couscous-like consistency, you can create a low-carb alternative to traditional couscous.

Broccoli Couscous: Similarly, broccoli can be processed into a couscous-like texture. This provides a nutrient-dense, colorful alternative to traditional couscous.

Lupini Flakes: When cooked and fluffed with a fork, lupin flakes can mimic the texture of couscous. They can be used in salads or as a side dish just like couscous.

Before you use lupin flakes: There is conflicting information about their actual carb count (raw lupin beans vs lupin flakes) so it may be worth doing a blood glucose test to see how they affect you. Just like peanuts, lupin flakes are made from beans and are legumes. Although they are low in carbs, not everyone can tolerate legumes or may even be allergic to them. Peanut and nut allergy sufferers beware! Also make sure that you only purchase lupin flakes from a reputable source. Improper preparation of lupin beans  results in toxicity from excess alkaloids that have not properly been removed by soaking. Such lupin products would taste bitter.

Low-Carb Alternatives to Quinoa

Hemp Hearts: Hemp hearts, or shelled hemp seeds, have a similar texture to quinoa when cooked. They're a great low-carb, high-protein alternative to quinoa. Plus they are high in magnesium, a mineral that's especially important when you go low-carb.

How to Prepare and Cook Low-Carb Grain Alternatives

Preparing and cooking low-carb grain alternatives can be as simple as pulsing cauliflower or broccoli in a food processor, or using hemp hearts. For the best texture, avoid overcooking vegetable alternatives as they can become mushy.

Not all low-carb grain alternatives are prone to overcooking. Options like shirataki rice and Palmini rice have a tougher texture and are unlikely to overcook.

Want to make shirataki rice that actually tastes good? For best results, follow this guide when using shirataki rice in recipes.

A Comprehensive Guide to Low-Carb Alternatives to Rice, Bulgur, Couscous, and Quinoa

Recipes with Low-Carb Grain Substitutions

Now that you're familiar with the different types of low-carb grain alternatives, let's dive into some delicious recipes that use these alternatives. Note that in the vast majority of recipes, cauliflower rice and palmini rice can be used interchangeably, and in some recipes this also applies to shirataki rice.

Cauliflower Rice Recipes

Cauliflower rice is a versatile low-carb grain alternative that can be used in a variety of dishes. For a flavorful and filling meal, try this One-Pot Fiesta Cauliflower Rice recipe. If you're in the mood for something a bit more exotic, this Bourbon Chicken recipe pairs perfectly with cauliflower rice. For a quick and easy meal, this Quick Taco Beef with Cauli Rice recipe is a great choice. Finally, let's not forget about this delicious low-carb version of Seafood Paella!

Shirataki Rice Recipes

Shirataki rice, while zero-carb and neutral-tasting, can be a great base for strong flavors. This Low-Carb Rice Pudding recipe is a delicious dessert option that uses shirataki rice. Love Indian cuisine? You will like this Butter Chicken and Beef Vindaloo which are best served with shirataki rice or cauli-rice.

Palmini Rice Recipes

Palmini rice is a versatile low-carb grain alternative that pairs well with a variety of dishes. For a flavorful and satisfying meal, try this Chicken Fried Rice recipe made with Palmini rice.

Bulgur Alternatives Recipes

For a fresh and flavorful salad, try this Pumpkin and Feta Cauliflower Tabbouleh or Spinach Tabbouleh recipes, both of which use cauliflower as a bulgur substitute.

Couscous Alternatives Recipes

This Low-Carb Mediterranean Cauliflower Couscous recipe is a delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional couscous dishes. If you love turmeric, you'll like this Golden Cauliflower Couscous.

These recipes showcase the versatility of low-carb grain alternatives and how they can be used in a variety of dishes. Whether you're looking for a comforting dessert, a hearty main course, or a light and refreshing salad, there's a low-carb recipe for you. Enjoy experimenting with these recipes and discovering new ways to enjoy your favorite meals while sticking to your low-carb diet.

Store-Bought Low-Carb Grain Alternatives

If you're short on time or prefer the convenience of store-bought options, there are many low-carb grain alternatives available in supermarkets and online. However, it's important to read the labels carefully.

Not all products marketed as "low-carb" are truly low in carbs or healthy. Some may contain hidden starches or unhealthy additives. Always check the ingredients and nutritional information to ensure you're making a choice that aligns with your dietary goals.

Buy Shirataki Rice on: Amazon US, Amazon UK

Buy Palmini Rice on: Amazon US, Amazon UK

Buy Hemp Seeds on: Amazon US, Amazon UK

Buy Lupini Flakes on: Amazon US


Switching to low-carb grain alternatives doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite dishes. With a little creativity and the right recipes, you can enjoy a variety of delicious, low-carb meals that satisfy your cravings.

Whether you choose to make your own low-carb grains at home or opt for a store-bought alternative, there's a world of options available to keep your meals exciting and your carb count low.

Have you tried any of these low-carb grain alternatives? Do you have a favorite recipe? Share your experiences and favorite dishes in the comments below!

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Martina Slajerova
Creator of

Martina Slajerova

I changed the way I ate in 2011, when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. I had no energy, and I found it more and more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

That’s when I decided to quit sugar, grains, and processed foods, and to start following a whole-foods-based ketogenic approach to food.

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Comments (10)

I use Palmini products, and while I do LOVE them, I wish it didn’t have such a strong “tang” to it…it’s like you want to bite into a sweet pickle, but instead it’s a dill pickle…
I use mostly the rice and angel hair pasta.
I do love quinoa, but it raises my blood sugar a lot, so I’ll have to try the hemp hearts.
I want to eat low carb, but also want the nutrients and other health benefits of things like quinoa… I really don’t want to just add in something that doesn’t have any nutritional value.
THANK YOU for this post and for the others about thickeners and potato substitutes!They have been VERY helpful in my search for low/no carb options to favorites

I totally get that! I personally love that tang but it's not to everyone's taste - and it may not work in all recipes. I've heard that cooking palmini briefly in water removes most of it but I haven't tried that. I personally use a bit of quinoa in my diet but I tolerate it well (I am low-carb on most days though). You have to do what works best for you! Thank you for your kind words, I'm glad you find these useful! 😊 Legume guide coming soon!

Oh. My. Gosh!
I never thought about just RINSING the palmini in water…but it worked. Now, my spaghetti tastes like spaghetti, not palm hearts!!! And the only 'tang' comes from the kalmata olives I put in it. (I have always put olives in my spaghetti, but usually just black ones. I didn't have black this time, so: kalmata!)
So simple!

That's so great to hear! Thank you so much for letting me know, I know it works for sure now! 😊

You warn about nuts, but give no warning about Lupin allergy. Lupin is a known allergy and where lupin flour is used in bread for example manufacturers put warns on the ingredients panel.

Hi Simon, thanks for the feedback! I try to be as thorough as possible but it's not always easy to include everything in one post. Same would apply pretty much to anything: dairy, avocados, coconut - people have all sorts of allergies and intolerances. I'll add it to the paragraph just for clarity.

This is awesome! Thank you so much for doing all of these super helpful guides! I've never even considered hemp seeds!

Thank you so much, I'm glad you found it useful!

I LOVE all these options! I had no idea there was such a thing as palmini rice. Now I need to try it!

Thank you for your kind words!