It’s not long till Christmas and while most of us are looking forward to some well-deserved down time and indulging in Christmas food, the question on many people’s minds is how do I NOT undo all the hard work I’ve put in over recent months. You may have dropped seven kilos or you may have recently improved your diet focusing on nutritious whole foods. But you really, really want to achieve some balance over the holidays while not being a total Christmas grinch.
One of the key ingredients to be wary of during the holidays is sugar. I hear you groan as you read this, because I know that in most traditional holiday season food sugar is virtually unavoidable. And who doesn't want to have a bit of Christmas pudding! Take my husband for example, who typically eagerly awaits the release of the pre-made crusty pavlova bases at our local supermarket. This year, true to form, he popped down to the supermarket to purchase some salmon for dinner but also returned with his long-desired pavlova base.
I took one look and smirked. He had been off sugar for three months now and had lost six kilos by making that one change – after a lot of nagging and hints from me. Within five minutes of consuming one slice of his banana and passionfruit pavlova with fresh cream, he groaned at me.
‘What’s up I?’ I asked.
‘Damn you woman you’ve ruined the pavlova for me!’
‘Good, then my job is done!’ I laughed.
When quitting sugar and being off it for awhile, your body will quickly tell you that it's unhappy when you do eat it again. My stomach becomes very upset if I indulge.
So, what are the options? Well you could completely abstain from any food with sugar in it or you can swap out sugar in your recipes for a healthier option - but are all alternatives healthier? I will say that you should beware of artificial sweeteners like Aspartame or Saccharin as they can alter your gut microbiome, lead to weight gain, and some are even considered carcinogenic as labelled by the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Let’s take a look at healthier options
Monk fruit sugar – made from the extract of the dried fruit it’s great to use when making cakes or other baked treats. There’s even a castor sugar version.
- it’s calorie free
- is 150-250 times sweeter than normal sugar – so you only need a small amount
- it doesn’t affect your blood glucose levels
- has zero carbs and fat
- promotes weight loss
- has anti-inflammatory properties
- is heat stable – so you can use in baked goods.
Coconut sugar – is harvested from the coconut palm sap and also works really well with baked goods. The downside is it is high in calories so use it sparingly if you’re trying to keep the weight off.
- it has a lower glycemic index than normal sugar
- it does contain trace nutrients like: iron, zinc, calcium, potassium
- also has phytonutrients like polyphenols and antioxidants.
I rarely use coconut sugar as the purported nutrients don’t outweigh the high calorie count.
Stevia – another great naturally sourced sweetener. I haven’t used this one in baked goods, but have used it in drinks like tea.
- helps reduce blood sugar levels
- low in calories.
Raw honey – this really is my favourite! I use it in my tea, granola, baked goods and so much more.
- high in antioxidants
- anti-cancer effects
- can reduce fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Maple syrup – sourced from the sap of the maple tree, maple syrup has long been enjoyed on a stack of pancakes. While it's a natural sweetener it's still high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation. I always opt for A grade, organic maple syrup if I’m going to use it.
- contains the following minerals: Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Zinc, and Manganese
- lower glycemic index than sugar
- contains antioxidants
- zero fat
- can help improve brain health.
Like any sweetener you should always consume any of the above in moderation, but it does mean that you can still enjoy some holiday treats if you swap out sugar for one of the above healthier options.
Most importantly, remember to enjoy the holidays with your loved ones and keep in mind that if you can’t avoid or reduce your sugar intake you can always get back into your healthy patterns after the silly season ends.