Your Prescription for Healthier Holidays
How did you do avoiding sugar over Halloween and Thanksgiving?
However it went, you can still plan ahead so the rest of your holiday season doesn’t become one big long sugar coma.
I’m focusing on sugar because of all the sweet treats that tend to be around during this part of the year. In any case, there is literally no month – with the possible exception of January – when there is not an eating holiday, so you can use these tips all year long.
Here’s the recap, followed by more detail with some links and recipes:
Tip #1 – Minimize added sugar
- If you didn’t make it, it has sugar added
- Fruit counts as sugar
- Hidden sugar – dairy, dressing, sauces, many other places!
Tip #2 – Sugar swaps
- Sweeten with applesauce
- Sweeten with fruit
- Natural sugar substitutes (?)
Tip #3 – Sugar success behavior adjustments
- Don’t arrive at a party hungry
- Fill your plate once and eat it slowly
- Don’t drink your calories
Tip #1 – Minimize Added Sugar
Notice I refer to “added sugar,” as opposed to naturally occurring sugars, such as in fruits and vegetables. NOTE: If you didn’t make it yourself, it probably has sugar added to it! Unless somebody handed you a piece of fruit (which some people have figured out how to inject sweeteners into, like Grapples – yuck!), know that it has sugar added to it – sauces, salad dressings, and so on.
What can you use instead of sugar to sweeten your holiday recipes? One way is by using spices to add a sweet flavor in place of some of the sugar. I personally am a big fan of cinnamon and add it wherever I can, or my homemade “pumpkin pie” blend of spices that I add to coffee, protein shakes, and baked treats.
Also, use fruit to add sweetness in place of sugar or other sweeteners. For example, instead of buying premixed yogurts with fruit flavors, add fresh fruit to plain yogurt. In many recipes – my friend Rusty’s banana bread, for example – you can use extra bananas and dates to replace the processed sugar usually used.
I am often asked about natural sweetener substitutes, such as stevia or monkfruit. The scientific literature on artificial sweeteners is that our bodies don’t necessarily distinguish them from sugar. For example, using them in place of sugar to help with weight loss – as in diet soda – does not always achieve this result. Many studies show people drinking diet drinks actually gain weight.
I think natural sweetener substitutes are definitely better for our health than the artificial ones like saccharin or aspartame, and you can use them to minimize other added sugars in your recipes. Just remember that overall, our taste buds are pretty ruined by how much sugar is added to food in general, so try as often as possible to go for the natural (less sweet) flavors of fresh fruit.
Tip #2 – Sugar Swaps
Also, use fresh fruit to sweeten your meals and desserts. For example, you can replace jam and just use the berries. I’ve made jam and I love it, but it basically a lot of sugar added to the fruit. Instead, just smush the berries straight onto your toast. Another idea is to take plain yogurt and sweeten it with fruit rather than buying the pre-flavored yogurts. Those are very sugary. See this chart for more ideas on sugar swaps.
As far as using natural sweeteners like maple syrup or agave syrup, again, these will not help on the weight loss front. Remember I mentioned above our taste buds that have become so used to a lot of sweetness? I challenge you to re-educate your taste buds away from the sweetened foods now found everywhere. If I use any sweetener in a recipe – even a natural one – I always use less than what the recipe calls for.
Tip #3 – Sugar Success Behavior
Missed out on some (or all) of your usual holiday parties last year? I’ll bet this year you have some get-togethers to attend. Here are some general tips to help.
First, don’t arrive at a party hungry! My favorite snack is a protein bar shortly before I go to a gathering where there will be lots of tempting foods. This can also apply to cooking – have a healthy meal before cooking so you don’t snack (or taste what you’re making) the whole time.
At the party or dinner, fill your plate once then eat slowly. (It is easier to eat slowly if you followed my previous tip and did not arrive starving to the party!) Food has to move through your gut in order to trigger any feeling of fullness, so the more slowly you eat, the better for eating and digesting proper portions of food.
Last for now, don’t drink your calories. I will say that my husband prefers a nice drink after dinner over a dessert, so you are welcome to make this type of calorie choice. I really want to steer you away from sodas and juices, which are unbelievably full of calories. Roughly, one can of a regular cola has TEN teaspoons of sugar in it! So not worth it.
This holiday season, instead of putting sweetness in your mouth, put more sweetness in your heart.