13 Lower Carb White Rice Substitutes

I could eat rice for every meal — eggs and rice, fried rice, sushi — the list goes on. But white rice isn’t the healthiest option, especially if you’re trying to cut down on carbs.

riced brocolli

Is white rice bad for you?

There isn’t a simple yes or no answer.

While there are more nutritious grain and grain-free alternatives to white rice, it is a refined grain, so it digests quickly. This may be ideal if you have stomach issues, need to eat a low-fiber diet, or are an athlete who uses carbs to fuel their workout. It’s also gluten-free.

When white rice is processed, the bran and germ are removed, stripping it of many nutrients. You can purchase rice enriched with nutrients like iron and B vitamins, but many white rice alternatives are more nutritious. Brown rice has more vitamins and minerals (except iron and folate), and fewer calories and carbs.

Grain-Like Rice Substitutes

We scoured the USDA FoodData Central database to see how all the grain-like rice substitutes stacked up. These numbers are for 100 grams of cooked food. White and brown rice have more carbs and calories than any of the alternatives. Amaranth and Bulgur wheat have the lowest amount of carbs, and quinoa wins for highest amount of protein.

FoodCaloriesCarbs (g)Protein (g)Fat (g)
White Rice14833.12.820
Barley (pearl)12328.222.260.44
Buckwheat (groat)9219.863.370.62
Bulgur Wheat8318.583.080.24


What is it?

Amaranth is a gluten-free pseudograin — technically it’s a seed and comes from a different family of plants than cereal grains like oat and wheat. It was originally cultivated in Mexico and South America, and was used by the Aztecs for food and religious rituals.

There are over 60 different species. It’s typically consumed in seed form or ground into flour.

What are its benefits?

Amaranth is high in protein, antioxidants, fiber, iron, and other nutrients. Studies have shown that it may lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.

What does it taste like?

Amaranth has a malty, nutty flavor.

In addition to being used as a rice replacement, it can be cooked in a variety of ways including being boiled, popped, or used as a thickening agent. The flour is useful for baking gluten-free treats. 

Amaranth can be cooked into a breakfast porridge, similar to oatmeal, but the texture is stickier especially if overcooked. Popped amaranth can be mixed into smoothies or used to add flavor and texture to salads or yogurt parfaits.


What is it?

Barley is an ancient cereal grain that can grow in a wide range of climates. It contains gluten. You’ll find two types of barley — pearl barley and hulled barley. Pearl barley is the more common form. It’s less nutritious because the hull and bran have been removed, but it takes a shorter time to cook. Hulled barley (or barley groats) is a whole grain with only the hull removed. Barley will expand two to three times its size when cooked.

What are its benefits?

Barley is rich in soluble fiber, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. It’s rich in B-vitamins like B6, thiamin, and niacin. It also contains other vitamins like zinc and iron.

What does it taste like?

Barley has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It’s a great addition to protein bowls, salads, and soups.


What is it?

Similar to amaranth, buckwheat is a pseudocereal (it’s not grown on a grass) that’s not related to wheat at all. It is gluten-free. There are two types of buckwheat that you’re likely to find in the store — kasha and raw buckwheat groats. Kasha is toasted and has a stronger scent and reddish color. You can easily toast raw buckwheat groats at home, and it makes them cook faster, so we suggest purchasing those because they’re more versatile.

What are its benefits?

Buckwheat is more nutritious than some other rice alternatives like quinoa, and has a higher amount of protein than rice. It is rich in a variety of minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. Consuming buckwheat may help manage blood glucose levels.

What does it taste like?

Buckwheat has a strong and distinct flavor. It is earthy, nutty, and slightly bitter, so if you’re using it as a rice alternative make sure it compliments the other flavors in your dish. Buckwheat can also be used in salads and porridge, and buckwheat flour can be used to make pancakes and breads.

Bulgur Wheat

What is it?

Bulgur wheat is popular in Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh. It’s made of cracked kernels of wheat that are parboiled (pre-cooked), making it quick to prepare. It comes in multiple grinds including fine, medium, course, and very course. Fine bulgur can simply be soaked, while coarser bulgur may need to be simmered. Since bulgur is made from wheat, it isn’t gluten-free.

What are its benefits?

Bulgur is rich in manganese, which helps with metabolism, among other things. It is a whole grain that is minimally processed, making it more nutritious than more refined grains like rice and couscous. Like other fiber-rich whole grains, it helps improve digestion.

What does it taste like?

Bulgur wheat has a slightly nutty flavor and light, fluffy texture. It’s a great addition to salads, and can also be made into patties and pilaf.


What is it?

Couscous actually isn’t a grain at all — it’s a pasta! It’s made from semolina flour from durum wheat, which means that it’s not gluten-free. There are two common types of couscous: Israeli and Moroccan. Israeli (or pearl) couscous is larger and takes longer to cook. You can also find whole wheat couscous, which is made from whole wheat semolina flour. Whole wheat couscous is the healthiest option.

What are its benefits?

Couscous is rich in selenium and potassium. Selenium is an antioxidant that plays a role in repairing damaged cells. However, other rice alternatives have a better nutrient profile than couscous.

What does it taste like?

It has a nutty, slightly butter flavor. It’s great to mix into salads or prepare alongside vegetables and protein.


What is it?

Farro is a blanket term that refers to three different wheat species: einkorn, emmer, and spelt. Emmer is most popular in the United States. Farro can be processed in multiple ways. Pearled farro cooks the fastest, but has no bran, which reduces the amount of nutrients. Semi-pearled has part of the bran and whole grain has the complete bran and is the most nutritious. It is not gluten-free.

What are its benefits?

It is high in protein and fiber, and contains nutrients like zinc, niacin, and magnesium. Make sure to choose whole farro for the most nutritional value.

What does it taste like?

Farro has a nutty flavor with sweet, cinnamony notes. It has a chewy texture. Because of its unique flavor, it’s a versatile grain that can be added to soups, salads, and even used as a substitute for oatmeal.


What is it?

Quinoa is a gluten-free seed that comes from the goosefoot plant. It is a source of complete protein, which means that it contains each of the nine essential amino acids. There are many varieties of quinoa including white, red, and black.

What are its benefits?

Quinoa is known as a superfood or supergrain because of its high nutrient profile. It is a great source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and antioxidants. 

What does it taste like?

It has a light, nutty flavor. The texture is fluffy, but slightly crunchy. Use quinoa as a base for your favorite bowl or mix it into a patty or casserole.

Grain-Free Rice Substitutes

Since you’re probably familiar with the flavor profiles of all these rice alternatives, we won’t go into detail. They’re all low-carb, except for the sweet potatoes, and packed with nutrients. While you can buy pre-made riced veggies at the grocery store, it’s also simple to make your own!

Riced or Chopped Cabbage

Whether you’re having a burrito bowl or fillet of fish, chopped cabbage is a complimentary rice alternative. It’s packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, and is high in fiber and antioxidants. Even better, it’s low calorie, keto, and paleo-friendly.

Riced Cauliflower

Cauliflower rice is one of the most popular rice alternatives. It’s high in vitamin C and antioxidants. It’s also a good source of fiber and high in water content (92%), which helps you feel full for longer.

Riced Broccoli

riced broccoli

Broccoli rice is also a popular low-carb rice substitute, and most grocery stores sell it pre-made. It’s high in vitamin C and vitamin K. Try tossing it with oil and seasoning, then roasting it for a slightly crunchy texture.

Shirataki Rice

Shirataki rice goes by many names — konjac rice and miracle rice to name a couple. This rice is made from konnyahku, the root of the konjac plant. It’s extremely high in fiber and low in calories, and also keto-friendly!

Sweet Potato Rice

Sweet potato is my absolute favorite complex carb! It’s sweet (obviously), flavorful, and can be eaten with any meal. It is a great source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. It’s also paleo-friendly.


pile of zoodles

While zoodles (zucchini noodles) may not technically look like rice, they’re a great base for proteins and simple to make with a spiralizer. They’re a good source of vitamin A and rich in antioxidants. Eat them cooked or raw depending on the flavor you prefer!

How to Make Riced Vegetables

Food Processor

food processor with a grater attachment

Make any vegetable into a rice substitute with the power of your food processor. We suggest using the grater attachment. First, cut your vegetables into small enough pieces to fit through the feeder tube. Turn on your food processor until the vegetables are a rice-like consistency. Use the pulse function for more control.

Hand or Box Grater

handheld grater

While using a box grater isn’t as easy as a food processor, it’s still doable. Using the medium-sized side of your grater, grate your vegetable of choice.

Which rice substitutes are gluten-free?

The following rice substitutes are gluten-free: amaranth, quinoa, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, shirataki rice, sweet potato rice, zoodles.

Which rice substitutes are keto?

In the keto diet, you should avoid starchy vegetables. Keto-approved rice alternatives include chopped cabbage, riced cauliflower, riced broccoli, and zoodles.

Which rice alternative are you most excited to try? Zoodles and quinoa are my personal go-tos.