The spirit of the holidays is here. And while this time of year is often synonymous with joy, magic, and comfort, the holiday season can also be a recipe for fatigue, mood instability, and sluggishness. Be it a disruption in your day-to-day routine—or an increase in social gatherings—healthy habits are easy to brush aside. Luckily, it is possible to have a balanced yet satisfying holiday season. Rest assured: there’s no need to skip dessert or healthify everything you make. After all, ’tis the season to celebrate life, togetherness, and the year ahead. With festivities underway, I’m sharing last-minute healthy holiday cooking swaps. Whether you’re hosting at your house or are celebrating elsewhere, these are easy ingredient alternatives.
Why is it hard to eat healthy during the holidays?
For most, it’s hard to eat healthy—and stick to wellness habits—during the holidays. Healthy eating is a challenge for two main reasons: loss of routine and control, as well as cultural norms around holiday eating. Even with great intentions, temptations and expectations throw us for a loop. We’re surrounded by more alcohol, more sugar, and there are more barriers to entry when it comes to exercise (travel, cold weather, busy schedules, etc.). All of that said, it’s important to recognize when you’re simply not prioritizing the things that make you feel good. Speaking of feeling good, the following healthy holiday cooking swaps are one way to consciously support your well-being.
3 TIPS TO HELP MANAGE your BLOOD SUGAR
Before we dive into healthy ingredient swaps, these are three simple tips to help you manage your blood sugar during the holidays. Keeping blood sugar stable (avoiding massive peaks and dips in your blood glucose) is key for feeling well—year round.
1. PAIR CARBS WITH PROTEIN OR FAT.
This will help slow the rate of sugar entering your bloodstream. When you’re noshing on charcuterie, aim for nuts, cheese, olives, or prosciutto with crackers. While you may have less control over what’s being served for dinner, opt for a protein-rich and fat-forward breakfast (eggs, sausage, avocado, cheese, berries, Greek yogurt, etc.). Starting your day off with stable blood glucose will support better energy (and cravings!) all day long.
2. STAY HYDRATED.
Water reduces blood sugar by diluting the amount of sugar in the blood. Aim for filtered water with electrolytes (this powder is delicious and has no sugar added)—particularly if you’re drinking alcohol.
3. MOVE YOUR BODY.
This goes without saying, but being physically active significantly reduces insulin resistance and lowers blood sugar. Muscles use up extra blood glucose during exercise, which is why resistance training is so beneficial. However, never underestimate the advantages of walking! After your holiday meals, encourage your family and friends to have a dance party or go for a bundled walk around the block.
Healthy Holiday eating guide
Ultimately, the follow guide is meant to steer you to alternatives that taste great and are made with real ingredients—maybe even ingredients with a higher bang for your nutritional buck. These healthy holiday cooking swaps are timeless, practical, and useful. Here are a handful of holistic holiday swaps to make the holidays feel both nourishing and satisfying. The following guide is broken down by appetizers, mains, sides, desserts, and drinks.
Goat and sheep cheese vs. cow’s cheese
Preferably organic, goat and sheep cheeses are often less processed than non-organic dairy options, with a higher nutritional value and better digestibility than cow’s dairy. Goat and sheep milk are also better options for those with dairy sensitivities as there is less lactose (milk sugar) than in cow milk products.
Nut Cheeses vs. traditional cheese
There are a variety of incredible nut cheeses on the market. They resemble the flavors of traditional cheese without the potential inflammatory side effects of dairy. Nut cheeses are loaded with healthy proteins, fats, and fiber, plus, they’re incredibly delicious. You can order Srimu online, but Treeline and Miyoko’s are more widely available brands.
Veggies and hummus vs. Sausage rolls
Traditional, meat-filled pastry appetizers often tend towards highly processed options that are filled with excess sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Crudités with hummus are filled with more fiber and healthy fats.
Seedy crackers vs. refined flour crackers
Swap traditional crackers for seedy, less refined crackers. I love Ella’s Flats, Flackers, Top Seedz, and Simple Mills. These can improve overall health and digestion. Pair with Bitchin’ Sauce or your favorite pesto.
Homemade roasted Nuts vs. store-bought
Nuts are great for satiation, blood sugar balance, and are loaded with protein and fiber. Try this homemade roasted nuts recipe.
Organic Meat vs. Conventional Meat
Organic (and ideally, grass-fed) meat contains no growth hormone or antibiotics, plus a lower fat ratio than conventional meat. Grass-fed animals have more omega 3 fatty acids because they consume more nutrients due to eating grass, their natural diet, versus grain and soy-based feed like conventionally fed animals. You can find organic meat options at Costco as well as online from retailers like First Light.
Wild-Caught Fish Vs. Farmed Fish
Wild-caught fish eat a natural diet of algae, krill, and smaller fish. This means that their diet is more varied, whereas farmed fish have a pretty consistent diet and are fed things that fish don’t (and shouldn’t) typically consume. This results in a lower nutrient profile. Farmed fish are also exposed to chlorine and other toxic tank cleaners and given antibiotics. Look for frozen wild-caught options at your local grocery store.
Tempeh Vs. ultra-processed meat alternatives
For plant-based options, opt for tempeh, lentils, and legumes. My friend, Laura, of The First Mess has an endless list of vegan holiday main dishes, desserts, and everything in between. When possible, swap ultra-processed soy meat alternatives (which are typically laden with inflammatory oils) for lentils and legumes. These contain fiber and protein, helping regulate blood sugar.
Celery root (celeriac) vs. mashed potatoes
A major benefit to mashed celery root is its ability to help balance blood sugar levels. It’s a wonderful option that’s loaded with antioxidants and fiber. Otherwise, try these mashed cauliflower potatoes.
Root veggies vs. Russet potatoeS
Root veggies—like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, acorn squash, and kabocha squash offer a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, making them an excellent addition to your holiday menu. They’re also loaded with fiber to help regulate blood sugar. When roasting, opt for a neutral, high-heat oil like avocado oil.
leafy Greens vs. iceberg lettuce
Not only do fresh greens offer an alkalizing and high-nutrient option to the dinner table, but they also add variety when it comes to texture. Adding fresh herbs, plus pops of color with seasonal foods—like pomegranate seeds—give salads a dynamic flavor profile and a boost of nutrition.
sautéed Greens vs. canned peas
Greens, like collards, spinach, and kale, packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Sautéing them helps improve flavor and digestibility. A simple dash of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, and sea salt for a simple yet delicious side.
Unrefined sugar vs. refined sugar
Making dessert for your family? Consider the type of sugar(s) you’re using. Natural sugars, like maple syrup, honey, and dates, are full of vitamins and minerals—think: magnesium and vitamin B. You can also sub regular sugar for low-glycemic sugar options (diabetic-friendly) that taste the same in baked goods.
Altnerative flour vs. gluten flour
Gluten-free flours—like almond flour, cassava flour, and coconut flour—can offer more energy, reduce bloating, and for most, are easier to digest. These are also more blood sugar-friendly than traditional flour. Here’s a list of blood sugar-friendly holiday cookie recipes.
sustainable wine vs. traditional booze
Organic wine, like Dry Farm Wines, don’t contain sulfites, additives, or genetically modified ingredients—all of which can trigger hangovers and allergies. Organic grapes are also higher in antioxidants and natural sulfur, so adding these preservatives is unnecessary. Along with Dry Farm Wines, Avaline makes delicious organic wines.
For your guests (or you!) who want something more than a sparkling water, there are many alcohol-free tonics and elixirs on the market. Aplós is well-loved, along with Gruvi’s Bubbly Rosé.
Tea after dessert Ginger, Mint or Lemon Balm tea after dessert or post-meal to enhance digestion
From ginger and lemon balm to mint and chamomile, all of these herbs can help support digestion. They break down gas, reduce bloating, and promote healthy transit time. According to Ayurvedic science, the warmth of tea also helps promote Agni, the digestive fire, which needs to burn bright for proper digestion.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.
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