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Lower Carbs in Rice vs. Pasta

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Lower Carbs in Rice vs. Pasta
If you're cutting carbs, whole-wheat pasta makes a better choice than rice, whether brown or white. Photo Credit: Indigo-stock/iStock/Getty Images

Rice and pasta are a tough fit on a low-carb diet, especially during the induction phase when you're limited to about 20 grams of carbs a day. While pasta is lower in carbs than rice, you may be able to make either high-carb item a part of your low-carb diet with a little planning and menu adjustment.

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Carbs in Rice Vs. Pasta

When counting carbs on a low-carb diet, many plans use "net carbs," a term that refers to the digestible carbs, or carbs that affect blood sugar. The number is calculated by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbs. Net carbs affect the carb content in rice and pasta, especially when comparing whole-grain varieties to refined.

A cup of cooked regular spaghetti has 43 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber, while the same serving of whole-wheat spaghetti has 37 grams of carbs and 6 grams of fiber. That means regular spaghetti has 40 grams of net carbs and whole-wheat 31 grams.

A cup of white rice has 45 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber, while brown rice has 45 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fiber -- 44 grams of net carbs in white rice and 31 grams in brown rice.

When It's OK to Eat Rice and Pasta

Most commercial plans say no to high-carb foods like rice and pasta during the early stages of the diet. Instead, it's encouraged that you get most of your carbs from nutrient-rich low-carb veggies such as spinach, lettuce and kale.

When you get to add rice and pasta back depends on the plan. For example, Atkins 20, which is the traditional low-carb diet, says to wait until you're in the maintenance phase before eating rice and pasta, and it should be whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. Atkins 40, which is a more liberal low-carb diet geared toward people who don't need to lose as much weight, says it's OK to eat these high-carb foods at the start, as long as you keep portion size to 1/4 cup of brown rice and 1/3 cup of whole-wheat pasta. The South Beach Diet allows brown rice and whole-wheat pasta during the second phase of the weight-loss program, with serving sizes of 1/2 cup of each.

Rice and Pasta on Your Low-Carb Diet

No matter when you're allowed to eat rice and pasta on your low-carb diet, all those carbs still count. To keep things under control, stick with the whole-grain versions and use measuring cups to control portions and carbs. Add meats and low-carb veggies to your brown rice and pasta dishes to create a more satisfying meal. For example, toss together whole-wheat pasta with cooked broccoli, cauliflower, onions and shrimp, and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese for a filling low-carb meal. Or stir-fry cooked brown rice with bok choy, mung bean sprouts, snow peas and tofu.

Low-Carb Alternatives to Rice and Pasta

Whether you're in the early stages of your low-carb diet or you'd rather save your carbs for other foods, there are low-carb alternatives to your usual rice and pasta. In the refrigerated section of your grocery store, you may be able to find shirataki rice or noodles, which are made from the root of the konjac plant. A serving of either the rice or noodles has 1 gram of net carbs or less. Serve as you would your usual rice or pasta.

If you're having trouble finding these low-carb products, you can make low-carb "rice" out of the florets of fresh cauliflower or "spaghetti" by cutting zucchini or yellow squash into thin strips. A 1/2-cup serving of either veggie cooked has 2 grams of net carbs.

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