You can make that holiday food a little less guilty and still a pleasure to eat.
Two Baton Rouge General Medical Center dietitians have come up with some suggestions to make our feasts as healthy as they are festive.
So don’t hesitate to reach for that gravy bowl when you serve yourself some turkey. Have a rice stuffing your waistline will thank you for. Sip some hot chocolate that won’t give you a sugar rush.
It’s all in substituting some ingredients that keep favorite foods satisfying while making them less fattening, say dietitians Kristen West and April Melancon.
Carbs, of course, are a big culprit — one in particular.
“If you’re eating a lot of sugar, it’s going to keep you wanting more and more of it,” West said. “The moment you start eating sugar, it’s like jumping in a hamster wheel of wanting more and more and more and more.”
Some suggestions for getting off the wheel:
1. Use natural sugar substitutes
One brand, Swerve, measures the same as sugar and works well in foods such as cheesecake, cake, cookies and sweet potato casserole, West said. There are brown and granulated sugar versions, as well as a powdered version which is great for baking, she said. It’s zero-calorie, non-glycemic and safe for those living with diabetes, since it has no effect on blood glucose or insulin levels, according to the company's website.
Monk fruit and stevia are other natural sweeteners, though stevia is more difficult to use in baking because less is required than sugar. West said artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase food cravings and aren’t recommended. Swerve and almond milk can be used for a tasty, low-carb hot chocolate (see recipe).
2. Sub out wheat flour
The dietitians said tapioca flour, a low-carb, gluten-free thickener, can be used to make a thick, light brown gravy (see recipe) to ladle over your turkey.
“Tapioca is probably our preferred thickening agent because the majority of corn in our food industry is highly processed, genetically modified, and a lot of the wheat can give you a lot of digestive issues, a lot of bloating," West said. "It’s very easy to find in the grocery store on the baking aisle.”
She also recommended almond and coconut flour.
3. Use cauliflower “rice”
True, West and Melancon aren’t endearing themselves to south Louisiana sugar cane and rice farmers, but they’re trying to help those who need to lower their carb intake. A reasonable facsimile of rice for stuffing (see recipe) can be made by pulsing cauliflower in a food processor until it turns into coarse, rice-sized pieces. Cauliflower rice also is sold ready-made in stores, West said.
Similarly, she suggested substituting spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles for wheat pasta.
4. Appetizers can be healthy & delicious
As one example, West suggested bacon- or prosciutto-wrapped green beans as a healthier replacement for “pigs in a blanket.”
5. Party tactics
For healthy maneuvers while on the party scene, Melancon recommended:
- Go easy on high-calorie drinks — If you’re drinking alcohol, avoid sugary mixers.
- Don’t skip meals — You eat more when you're ravenous.
- Don’t graze — Munching mindlessly from a snack bowl adds calories without much satisfaction. “Have separate time for your food where you sit down and take bites and enjoy it," Melancon said. "Put the fork down between bites. Enjoy your food and make that separate from your mingling.”
- Have a strategy — Put high-nutrient, low-calorie vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts or zucchini on your first plate. You won't be as tempted to overdo on richer foods.
- Focus on what matters — Food should not be the main attraction, Melancon said. “Spend that quality time with your family. Put the focus on that.”