Ah, the holiday season – a time for joy, laughter, and the irresistible aroma of festive feasts wafting through the air. It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of sugary indulgences, but fear not! There’s a delightful path to reveling in the season’s sweetness without bidding adieu to your commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Join me on this culinary adventure as we explore some delectable and nutritious holiday cooking ideas sprinkled with a dash of personal experience and a pinch of well-backed research.
The hormonal link
Before I dive in to share the delectable details, let me share how sugar may impact our hormonal harmony. First, sugar is inflammatory. A chronic source of sugar can disrupt the normal healing functioning of our hormones. Sugar can impact the gut microbiome, which has an impact on hormonal balance. Sugar has an inextricable link with cortisol. Thus, high sugar consumption can lead to higher cortisol levels, “stealing” pregnenolone and progesterone, and thus lead to estrogen dominance. Not good! The symptoms associated with estrogen dominance are significant. If you are curious if your symptoms are associated with estrogen dominance, you can take my free quiz here.
A gradual journey of change
My cooking and eating habits have transformed significantly over the years, making fine tweaks, here and there to optimize the expression of my DNA and as I am presented with new science. Today, I eat a low-carb, very green, wild-caught seafood, organic diet with very, very rare, processed sugar. Occasionally, I’ll splurge when I’m with family and have some ice cream at the beach. Or I’ll have a birthday treat. But I have found that using Monk Fruit Sweetener is a way for me to honor my taste buds and my commitment to my health. The great news is that those who indulge in my food have no idea that it’s Monk Fruit. If you’re not ready for Monk Fruit, or it doesn’t fit your budget, I’ve included several other options that will still uplevel your holiday treats to a much healthier option.
1. Ditching the White Stuff: A Honeyed Affair
Let’s kick off our journey by bidding adieu to refined sugar and embracing the warm embrace of natural sweeteners. Mother Nature’s natural option – Honey. Picture this: swapping out sugar in your baked goods for a golden drizzle of honey. The distinct flavor adds a comforting touch to cookies, muffins, or glazes for your holiday hams. The bonus? Honey brings both sweetness and a generous serving of antioxidants to the table.
2. Maple Syrup – More Than a Pancake Companion
Maple syrup isn’t just a pancake’s best friend; it’s a versatile ally in our quest for healthier holiday recipes. Rich in antioxidants, this liquid gold is perfect for infusing a unique, robust sweetness into your holiday fare. From waffles to sweet sauces, let the amber magic of maple syrup elevate your dishes to new heights.
3. Date Paste – A Sweet Symphony of Natural Goodness
Now, let’s talk about date paste – a revelation in sweetening desserts. Imagine brownies, energy balls, or smoothies adorned with a sweet puree of blended dates. It’s not just about the natural sweetness; date paste brings along a trove of fiber and nutrients to amplify the health quotient of your holiday treats. There are several raw cookbooks that use dates/date paste with absolutely incredible results. My family loved the raw “cheesecake” that I made, as well as a host of other amazing treats.
4. Stevia – The Zero-Calorie Sweet Symphony
For those of us mindful of our sugar intake, enter Stevia. Derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, this zero-calorie sweetener is a game-changer. Just a touch of Stevia can transform your beverages, desserts, and even savory dishes into guilt-free delights. Remember, it’s potent, so a little goes a long way. In fact, it’s 200-400 times sweeter than table sugar. However, it’s a non-nutritive sweetener, which means it has no carbohydrates, calories, or other ingredients. Note some articles suggest that Stevia may impact your gut microbiome (bacteria) and cause gas and bloating. Thus, you may want to try this in small doses to start.
5. Monk Fruit Sweetener – The Naturally Sweet Virtuoso
Our culinary journey wouldn’t be complete without the mention of monk fruit sweetener. Extracted from the monk fruit, this zero-calorie sweetener boasts a sweet taste without the bitter aftertaste. Picture it as your versatile companion in baking, cooking, and beverages, ensuring a guilt-free celebration of flavors. Because this also has an extremely sweet flavor – 100-250 times sweeter than sugar, monk fruit sweetener is often mixed with other sweeteners to tone it down. For instance, I typically use powdered monk fruit sweetener when making whipped topping to give a creamier option. I’ll use the regular granulated option if I’m using it in a cooked dish, like homemade cranberry sauce. If you are looking for some healthy, yummy recipes with Monk fruit sweetener, I suggest a Google search for Keto Holiday Treats.
Balancing the Sweetness with Facts: A Quick Detour
Before we dive deeper, let’s pause for a moment. Excessive sugar intake has its pitfalls. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), keeping added sugars below 10% of our total daily energy intake is crucial. Unfortunately, many in third-world countries eat over 360 pounds of sugar annually!!! Mina Bissell, from Berkley Lab Life Sciences Division, found in her research that “sugar can cause oncogenesis” or the growth of tumors. Additionally, going beyond the recommended limits of the WHO has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dental issues. So, as we revel in the sweetness, let’s keep it in check.
6. Fresh Fruits – Nature’s Candy in Every Bite
As we continue our culinary adventure, let’s turn to the colorful world of fresh fruits. Apples, pears, berries, and citrus – imagine them weaving a natural sweetness into your holiday cooking. Whether it’s a refreshing fruit salad or a fruity twist to stuffing or side dishes, these delights add both vibrancy and health to your festive table. While fruits add sweetness, they also add fiber and antioxidants, so bring on the healthy fruits.
7. Spices – A Flavorful Dance with Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Allspice
Spices, those enchanting companions in the kitchen, are our next stop. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice – the classic trio of holiday flavors. Sprinkle them on oatmeal, blend them into smoothies, or infuse them into savory dishes like roasted vegetables. Not only do they enhance flavors, but they also let us reduce our reliance on excessive sugar. Additionally, cinnamon can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism and also provides anti-oxidants.
8. Dark Chocolate – A Decadent Finale
For my fellow chocoholics, fear not! Our journey concludes with the richness of dark chocolate. Less sugar than its milkier cousin, dark chocolate not only satisfies our sweet tooth but also brings a dose of antioxidants to the holiday dessert table. Think brownies, truffles, or a heavenly topping for cakes and fruit. I often use Lilly’s chocolate chips or grate Lilly’s chocolate to use in recipes. I also have fresh dark cocoa powder, which is a great option for deep chocolate goodness.
Mindful Celebrations: Baking and Portion Control
As we savor the success of our healthier sugar alternatives, let’s not forget the essence of mindful celebrations. Even with these healthier options, moderation is our guiding star. A balanced approach to baking and portion control ensures that our festive table is a delight for the taste buds and a nod to our well-being. You may want to start these conversions slowly if you have picky eaters, like I did. Try one dish at a time if need be.
Delectable dinner dishes
I know that many of us grew up with sweet potato casserole smothered in marshmallows, or other ooey gooey meals that we feel we just must have at our holiday meals. What if you start by cutting out the sugar in just one recipe each year? That’s how I started. Again, instead of marshmallow, maple syrup can be an amazing option for your sweet potatoes. Or better yet, roast a variety of colorful veggies marinated in organic olive oil with fresh herbs overnight. I promise you will love the aroma while roasting, the taste, and the presentation. Here’s a couple of my favorite recipes here and here.
In Conclusion: Crafting a Healthier, Sweeter Celebration
Our choices can weave a narrative of health and joy in the tapestry of holiday cooking. We embark on a journey that celebrates both flavor and well-being by infusing natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, date paste, stevia, and monk fruit sweeteners into our recipes. So, as you create your festive dishes, let the warmth of these alternatives fill your kitchen, and may your holidays be both sweet and healthful.
NOW – the LIVE fun!! I’m hosting a short live event on Instagram on Tuesday, December 5th at 12:00 noon EST to share easy peasy ways to make any holiday meal healthier. Join me live on Facebook or Instagram to get the yummy deets.
Wishing you a season of joy and delicious delights!