While you’re decking the halls with boughs of holly and sugar plum fairies are dancing in your head, it’s easy to get lost in the reverie of the winter holidays – which include partaking in sugary treats, foods, and drinks. Entertaining is at its peak this time of year and so is the consumption of sugar. Overdosing on treats can make it difficult to adhere to a low-sugar diet and weight management regime.
Sweet usually means sugar but it’s also synonymous with joy and celebration. The double meaning can trick us into rolling them up together, resulting in sugar overload. Some of us are drawn to sweet treats as a kind of symbolic wish for a “sweet new year.” Stores showcase candy canes, gingerbread cookies, and decorative chocolates in shop windows and on the shelves. Did you receive a gift of chocolate truffles, fudge, a chocolate gift box, a tin of candy popcorn? You can be naughty and gorge on candies, cakes, and sugary drinks or be nice and re-gift them to friends, a food bank, or a homeless shelter. Here are some ways to work around the sweetness frenzy, cut down on sugar, and still feel jolly.
Nix the Added Sugar
Basic rule: Control the added sugar (sugar not already naturally found in foods). Instead of dipping your hand into a bowl of toffee, truffles, or other sugary candies, grab a handful of dried fruits (the ones with no added sugar). The natural sugar contained in fruit combined with the chewiness of dried fruit is a great way not to feel like you’re denying yourself. Slices of fresh cut-up fruit or whole fruit are also satisfying.
Red warning light for holiday meals: sides that add sugary toppings like sweet potatoes may brighten up a holiday plate but there’s no need to add mini-marshmallow. A pat of butter or coconut oil and a dash of cinnamon bring out the natural sugars in the sweet potatoes. You’ll still be eating decadently without sabotaging your low-sugar diet.
Spices are your savior for enhancing taste while reducing sugar. Instead of dusting your casseroles or side dishes with syrups and other sweet sauces, use cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or nutmeg for sweetness.
Holiday Food Trays and Desserts
Putting on a holiday finger food spread? Get creative with winter fruits, nuts, veggies, and savory platters that are high in protein. Prepare a plate of assorted fruits and roasted chestnuts. For savory spreads lay out slices of lean meats, dry cheeses like parmesan, and mustard.
Desserts can be challenging but they aren’t impossible: low-sugar Paleo and Keto dessert recipes abound. Instead of pumpkin pie, try making a no-bake pumpkin parfait like the one found on this blog: https://evergreenkitchen.ca/recipe/pumpkin-pie-parfait-with-coconut-whipped-cream. The sweetness comes from the pumpkin itself, and low-glycemic sweeteners like maple syrup and coconut sugar, won’t spike your blood sugar.
Low-Sugar Holiday Recipes
Chocolate isn’t the enemy. It’s the sugar in the chocolate that is. Here’s a work-around: Choose high-cocoa percentages in dark chocolate to give you the satisfying rich taste of chocolate with lowered sugar. Go 85 percent cocoa or higher – more cocoa often means less sugar. Try this DIY mini peanut butter and pumpkin seed chocolate cup (https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/mini-chocolate-pumpkin-seed-candy-peanut-butter-cups/).
For more sugar control, create your own chocolate recipe. Use unsweetened powdered cocoa, mix with heated milk or non-dairy nut milk like almond milk or coconut milk. Love chocolate bars? Use chocolate squares melted in a double boiler and add a natural sugar substitute and milk. Mix and pour into a shallow pan and refrigerate for an hour or two. Break into bite-size pieces or score into even squares when the chocolate is halfway solid.
Thinking about serving fruit cake? It’s a fun and festive treat and you may like to give them out as gifts or treat your guests. Instead of the 1 or 2 cups of brown sugar used in classic fruitcakes, let the sweetness of dried fruits stand on their own. Your guests probably won’t even know. Check out this luscious fruit cake recipe (https://thehealthyfoodie.com/paleo-chestnut-fruit-cake/).
Prepare for Temptation
As a guest at Christmas and New Year’s parties, be prepared for the temptation. You may not have much control over the selection of foods. Eat a little something in advance, so you won’t be overly hungry and tempted to dive into sugar-laden spreads. Then at the party, concentrate on proteins like turkey and ham and fill in with underdressed vegetables.
Drinks: Savoring Without the Flavorings
What’s a holiday without alcoholic drinks? The problem is that they turn into sugar when consumed. An occasional small glass of dry wine isn’t so bad, but watch the quantity and avoid sweetened mixed drinks and liquors.
Remember, non-alcoholic drinks can be loaded with sugar too. Non-alcohol versions may not contain alcohol but they probably contain added sugar. Eliminate the rum from your rum and Coke and you’re still drinking loads of sugar.
While on the way to grandma’s house, you stop at a coffee house. A word to the wise: skip the sugary coffee concoctions with their pumped-in sweet syrups and whipped cream toppings. Order plain coffee, add a modest amount of cream and sugar and shake some cinnamon over your brew from the self-serve bar. Coffee shops usually have a selection of sugar packets on hand. Many offer stevia, a natural sweetener made from the stevia plant which is lower in sugar content than table sugar.
What about egg nog? With or without alcohol? What about all that cream? Decisions, decisions. The point is, there are many ways to modify your eggnog. You can forego the brandy or rum, and replace added sugar with natural, low-glycemic sweeteners. Leave room to indulge with a little heavy cream. Then, top it off with nutmeg and you can still enjoy that irresistible sweet creamy taste.
Apple Cider is another traditional holiday favorite that contains a lot of sugar – the natural sugar from apples plus the added sugar. Try substituting apples with apple cider vinegar and spicing it up with mulling spices (allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and orange or lemon peel).
To warm you up on those cold holiday nights, make hot chocolate from scratch. Start by heating milk or non-dairy almond or coconut milk over the stove. Add unsweetened cacao powder and a natural sugar-free substitute or a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup. Vanilla, almond, and other extracts are also tasty sugar substitutes for flavoring hot drinks. Pour into a cup and enjoy flavorful, chocolaty warmth.
That brings us to water and tea. What’s hiding in your bottle of water and tea? It might not be obvious that some flavored waters, coconut waters, and teas contain sugar. Not Tejava. Our teas contain no added sugar, only brewed tea leaves with natural flavors. Accompany your holiday dish with a ready-to-drink bottle of Tejava black, green, oolong tea, or a comforting cup of brew-at-home hot tea – straight up or select from our variety of flavored teas.
You can lower your sugar intake this holiday season and still be merry.