back to top

I Tested These Low-Carb Substitutes To See If They're Actually Shit Or Legit

Would I become part of the Courgetti Cult?

Posted on

I bloody love carbs. I've been known to eat a mac 'n' cheese toastie for lunch, and growing up in an Indian family, where it's completely normal to eat a potato curry with rice and rotis, meant that I was practically raised to worship beige food.

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

The problem is, I regularly find myself lying down post-meal, flies open and button undone, moaning from my rapidly expanding belly. I also tend to favour starchy carbs over the good guys, i.e. vegetables, so not only do I constantly have food babies, I'm not dropping them off at pool as much as I should, if you know what I'm saying.

Right now, healthier alternatives to high-carb foods are all the rage. By preparing vegetables in a way that mimics the texture of carbs like rice or pasta, you can apparently create lighter versions of your favourite meals, all with minimal effort. As an avid carb lover I am sceptical of these claims, but what I really want to know is: Do they actually taste any good?

Sure, I can believe you can make a pizza base out of caulfiower, and sure, I can believe it might actually be fairly easy, but can I really believe it when someone says: "OMG cauliflower pizza is amazing! I love it so much I don't even miss regular pizza!"? Did they even really like pizza that much in the first place to say such heinous shit? Is Gwyneth holding them hostage? Am I, a regular person who says they'll go to the gym but doesn't actually go to the gym, really going to enjoy a pizza made from fucking cauliflower?

I decided that for my fellow carb-loving people who are not so easily fooled, I would do some serious investigating and find out if these lower-carb alternatives are actually legit or just shit.

I also wanted to find out if these methods were an easy and effective way to help me reach my five a day (the number of portions of fruit and veg you should eat daily, as recommended by the World Health Organization) since many of the substitutes call for the use of vegetables. I decided I would make five meals using popular alternatives. Each meal I've rated based on cooking level, taste, effectiveness as a dupe, and health (carbs you save, which I calculated using MyFitnessPal, and potential contributions towards your five a day.


Meal 1: "Courgetti" (or "Zoodles")

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Carb swap: Spaghetti or linguine for courgette (zucchini) spirals.

Cooking level: Easy. All you need is a spiraliser like this one, or a julienne peeler to peel the courgette into spaghetti-like strands. Once you have the strands, you can simply boil them for a few minutes or pan fry. I didn't follow any particular recipe for this, but I did hear from friends that pesto works particularly well with courgetti, so I just used a red variety and added some chicken and broad beans.

Was I fooled?

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Taste: 8/10.

I now understand the hype about "courgetti" or "zoodles". It tastes pretty damn good, and although pasta still tastes better, (come on now, let's not be completely unrealistic) you do just feel better on the inside when you eat the courgette version. The benefits basically outweigh a small compromise on taste.

Dupe score: 7/10.

The parboiled courgette really does mimic spaghetti or linguine quite well; it even twirls on your fork like regular ol' pasta! Since courgette does release water when cooked, it can end up watering down the sauce or pesto, but all in all it's a pretty good substitute. (Note: If you get one of the more expensive spiralisers rather than a handheld one, the core of the courgette, which holds the most water, is removed entirely. So if you're going to be part of the Courgetti Cult I would invest in one that does this.)

Health score: 8/10

You gain a nice portion of veg from the spiralised courgette, and if you're like me and like to put veggies in your pasta, then this meal could end up giving you two to three portions of veg without your being conscious of it. You also save yourself approximately 37.5g of carbs by making the switch from regular pasta (based on one courgette per person).

Overall Rating: 8/10

I will 100% be making this meal again, and I'm actually excited to try spiralising different veggies and making other recipes. (Pad thai with squash noodles, anyone?) However, next time I would probably make a least 1.5–2 courgettes PER PERSON, because one just does not produce enough courgetti (bear in mind this isn't real pasta so not as filling). I would also recommend adding protein to this dish like I did, to increase satiety.

Meal 2: Beef burger with portobello mushroom "buns"

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Carb swap: Burger buns for portobello mushroom caps.

Cooking level: Easy. You just have to grill or roast the mushroom caps for about 20 minutes. I got the idea from here.

Was I fooled?

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Taste: 7/10

All of the ingredients were pretty the salad I ended up making because the mushroom caps as burger buns do not work AT ALL!

Dupe score: 1/10

Guys, mushroom caps cannot be burger buns. What on earth was I thinking? When you cook them they both release and retain so much water, and even though I took special care to pat them down throughly, they were still very wet and slippery and made it impossible for me to eat my burger like a regular human. Since I refused to be that person who eats a burger with a knife and fork, I improvised and added some spinach leaves to turn the whole thing into a sort of "deconstructed" burger instead, which made me want to shoot myself a little bit.

Health score: 7/10

Each mushroom, because they are so large, counts as one of your five a day, so adding some sliced avocado (frankly a must for any burger these days) can mean this meal delivers three portions of veg and four if you end up making it into a salad like I did. The carbs you save from replacing the buns with mushrooms are around 15g (based on a small, regular hamburger bun, not a fancy brioche).

Overall score 4/10

While this doesn't taste bad at all, it is just ONE BIG FAT LIE. In this case, if you're gonna have a burger just have a burger, and if you're gonna have a salad, just have a salad. The combination of the two is just sadness and lies.


Meal 3: Two-ingredient flourless pancakes

Remee Patel

Carb swap: Flour for bananas and eggs.

Cooking level:
Easy. You just mash up one banana with two beaten eggs and pour it in a hot pan just like a regular pancake. The recipe I used is only for one serving, so I doubled it thinking I could also get my housemate in on the pancake action. SEE RESULTS FOR WHY YOU SHOULD NOT DO THIS.

Was I fooled?

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Taste: 5/10

If I were rating this based on my housemate's pancake, the score would probably be 1/10. This is because I doubled the recipe without realising that the mushed banana, being denser than the eggs, would sink towards the bottom of the jug. Being the kind, selfless person that I am, I served my housemate first, which meant his was more egg than banana. My pancake, which was considerably more banana-y, was actually pretty decent, hence the average score.

Dupe score: 6/10

As you can see from the cross-section of the pancakes in my photo, they weren't all that dissimilar to the American-style variety. However, the pancakes, although slightly fluffy, are definitely eggy, and although the banana does a good job of masking any eggy flavour, you can't help but think you're just eating a sweet omelette.

Health score: 6/10

Since this pancake calls for two eggs per person, it does make for a protein-heavy and therefore filling breakfast. The banana adds in a sneaky one of your five a day, so with some blueberries you've already reached two! Going flourless saves you 26g of carbs when compared with a normal serving of American-style pancakes, but remember that because of the banana (and blueberries if you choose to add some) this meal isn't exactly low on sugar.

Overall score: 6/10

This dupe wasn't bad at all, and extremely easy to make, especially considering bananas and eggs are always staples on my shopping list. Saying that, I don't think I would actually make these again. They were probably a bit too eggy for me (and I had the best of the batter). A more popular variety of these pancakes calls for the addition of oatmeal, which I imagine would make them far more pancakey (while still relatively healthy) but I did not use this recipe since I was looking for something lower-carb.

Meal 4: Cauliflower crust pizza

Remee Patel

Carb swap: Flour-based dough for cauliflower-and-cream-cheese "dough".

Cooking level:
Pain in the ass. It requires a food processor or a box grater to rice the cauliflower, which is fine, but once you boil it you then have to sieve it through a tea towel in order to drain it of water. Sounds simple enough, but squeezing water out of a tiny ball of mushed cauliflower will eventually make you go crazy because it is literally feels never-ending. You can find the recipe I used here.

Was I fooled?

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Taste: 5/10.

If it weren't for the oodles of melted cheese, this would frankly taste like a pile of shit.

Dupe score: 4/10

I felt sort of triumphant when the pizza didn't fall apart in my hands (I can applaud the recipe for that) but it certainly wasn't firm like regular pizza. It did a decent job of looking like a pizza, but the base, once you tasted it without all of the sauce and cheese, tasted like fart. It's also worth noting that this recipe REALISTICALLY only serves ONE person. After my housemate and I consumed this pathetic little pizza, I made us a proper lunch.

Health score: 2/10

I guess since the crust is pretty much made out of an entire cauliflower, you could say you've sneakily added in a portion of veg, although I would challenge this seeing as you probably lose all of the nutrients from squeezing it to death and then roasting it. I doubt cauliflower pizza is good for you, considering you use cream cheese in the dough AND you need a lot of cheese on top to make it palatable. When you compare the cauliflower base with a regular pizza base (I've used the Napolina mini pizza base as a comparison since the pizza dupe is realistically an individual portion) you save around 22g of carbs, but I'm pretty sure what you lose in carbs you make up for in extra fat from all of the cheese.

Overall score: 3/10

I'm probably making this pizza sound much worse than it actually is, but considering the effort involved and the fact that it's not even healthy, I will never bother making this ever again. Especially not if I want to keep living with my housemate:


Meal 5: Chicken curry with cauliflower "rice".

Remee Patel

Carb swap: Rice for riced cauliflower.

Cooking level:
Easy. I had a mini chopper, which made ricing the cauliflower florets easy, but if you don't have one or a food processor, then a box grater will do the same job (although you'll have to put in a bit more work). There are many ways to cook the riced cauliflower – you can even do it in the microwave – but I wanted to go with the best-rated method, which was roasting.

Was I fooled?

Remee Patel / BuzzFeed

Taste: 8/10

I feel like I need to be totally honest here: I like rice but I'm not crazy about it like the rest of my family. Because of this, I feel like I responded really well to this dupe. So if you're the same then, friends, CAULIFLOWER IS AN ABSOLUTE REVELATION! It doesn't taste farty when roasted (I see why this is the preferred method) and it makes the perfect bed for any delicious curry (which, for me personally, is what rice is for).

Dupe score: 7/10

I would award this a higher score, but I haven't for two reasons: 1) I feel like because rice isn't life to me, it would be unfair to say this is going to change any rice lover's life; and 2) The texture, while fairly fluffy and grainy, is actually more like couscous rather than rice.

Health score: 8/10
By swapping out regular white rice you save a whopping 41g of carbs while simultaneously adding a portion of veg to your dinner – without even noticing.

Overall score: 8/10

I'm sorry, rice lovers. I'm sorry, fam. But this is the new, improved rice for me.

I was expecting to hate all of these lower-carb alternatives, because I genuinely thought it was all just a crock of shit used to sell some fancy peelers. The truth is, some of these are genuinely good. Cauliflower rice? Courgetti? Those were game-changers for me. And while I'm not one for low-carb diets (you need carbs!) switching it up every other day seems wise, especially if you tend to bloat easily. But the best part of all of this wasn't the fact that I didn't have to undo my button behind my desk this week (although that is a massive achievement in my opinion); it was the fact that I ate so much more veg than normal without even really being aware of it.

I think before joining the Courgetti Cult you really need to consider three things:

1. You have to be serious about increasing your veg intake.

2. You have to be serious about pooping.

3. You need to understand your carb needs: Is it the carb you really enjoy, or the stuff that goes with the carb? In lots of ways carbs are vessels for the stuff that's really tasty – like curry, or meatballs. In which case a substitute like courgetti or cauliflower rice works just fine. But sometimes, a carb is integral to a dish – like pizza, and burger buns. In which case just go to Pizza Hut or Five Guys.

Ultimately I won't be giving up my weekly Domino's treat, but I will be making courgetti and cauliflower rice on a regular basis, and I guess that's what it's all about – achieving a better balance. And having nicer poops.