The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year – except if you’re trying to avoid sugar. ‘Tis the season for cookie exchanges, warm sugary drinks, and sweets everywhere you turn.
A few sweet treats in the spirit of the season never hurt anyone. But, it’s easy to overdo it on the sugar if you’re not careful. Sugar is often an ingredient in not only desserts but also in many favorite holiday recipes. Anyone looking to avoid sugar by abstaining from cookies and cakes may still struggle with the rich, seasonal recipes that are popular at family gatherings and office get-togethers. Here are some tips to help you avoid added processed sugar during this festive season.
Read the label
This tactic applies year-round but is even more important when shopping for holiday snacks and ingredients. Read the labels while shopping to see what’s really in the food you’re buying.
“Most of the sugar you eat is hidden in or added to processed foods, drinks, desserts, and cereal bars — much of it labeled as high fructose corn syrup,” wrote Psychology Today. “This corn-based product sweetens up thousands of foods, from ketchup and tomato sauces to soft drinks, crackers, processed meats, and even so-called health food products.”
Even when you shop for better-for-you sugar alternatives like monk fruit sweetener and stevia, make sure those ingredients make up the majority of the sweetener product.
Many sugar alternative brands lure consumers with a seemingly simple claim: substitute their product “1 to 1 just like sugar”. These 1:1 sugar replacements can include bulking agents like erythritol. Check the label to see what percent of the sweetener is stevia: If erythritol makes up 70% of the product, that means only 30% of your sweetness is coming from stevia! That 1:1 blend is just erythritol with some stevia on the side.
Bake with stevia
The holidays are the best time of year to indulge in sweets – and you don’t have to miss out just because you’re avoiding sugar. Instead, substitute the sugar in cookies, brownies, and cupcakes with All-Purpose Stevia. Whip up a batch of brownies with Organic Hazelnut Spread or cookies sweetened with stevia and decorate them using homemade icing created from stevia, butter, vanilla extract, and milk. A little food coloring can help make your treats look extra festive!
Choose your drinks wisely
Hot chocolate, eggnog, peppermint lattes – even chai teas can have a ton of added sugar. “Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute about half of the total added sugar in the U.S. food supply,” reports Harvard Health.
Even fruit juices can contain a lot of hidden artificial sugar. If you’re making a holiday punch, watch out for processed “juice cocktails” – cranberry juice cocktail, for instance, contains a lot of added sugar to balance the bitterness of cranberries. Instead, go for 100% fruit juices that contain only the sugar extracted from the fruit or vegetable. Overall, says Harvard Health, it’s best to limit juice altogether.
To sweeten up your hot drinks, like tea and coffee, try a liquid stevia extract or Pyure’s Sugar-Free Harmless Hunny. Pyure’s Organic Liquid Stevia Extract is zero calories with a zero glycemic index, so you won’t crash from a sugar high later in the day. Check out our recipe for Peppermint Coconut Hot Chocolate to find your new favorite cozy – and better-for-you – seasonal beverage!
Cook from scratch
If you’re hosting a crowd, it’s tempting to go for pre-prepared foods that you can simply heat up and serve. We get it: Entertaining can be stressful. Even if you aren’t cooking for a big group due to pandemic restrictions, prepared foods are an enticing shortcut while you juggle work commitments, holiday shopping, family and friends, and everything else that keeps us busy during December.
“A vast variety of prepared foods contain additional sweeteners,” said Harvard Health. “Breakfast cereals contain added sugar, but so do ready-to-eat meals, breads, soups, tomato sauces, snacks, and cured meats.”
One way to avoid relying on prepared meals is to cook a big batch meal on Sunday nights that you can heat and eat during the week. Look for versatile recipes that you can spice up and add ingredients to make them feel fresh. For instance, start with a tomato-based soup that you can add vegetables, rice, or pasta throughout the week to make your meals unique. It’s much healthier than store-bought broth which tends to have a lot of added sugar.
Avoiding sugar during the holidays takes a little planning, but by reading the labels and switching to sugar alternatives, you can cut down on the yucky stuff. Check out our Holiday Box filled with everything you need to get you ready for the baking season – available for a limited time only.