I love the holidays. Not just because it is a chance to spend time with friends and family, but also because it is a chance for me to inspire others through food. More often than not, I bring something healthy and creative, containing only fresh whole food ingredients. Usually it stands out, alone and out of place, in the flood of other rich and sweet alternatives. Not surprisingly, it usually is a hit, drawing in curious tasters with the colorful and vivid ingredients screaming “taste me!” Without refined sugars, and refined flours and grains, it may seem hard to compete with the latter. However, the savory and delicious flavors always prove them wrong. Whole foods can taste good!
Not only do whole food ingredients taste delicious, but they also naturally contain less refined sugar, preservatives, or other flavor enhancers, and more nutrients and fiber. For example, you can buy canned cranberry sauce that contains 21g of sugar per ¼ cup serving, or 5 ¼ teaspoons of white sugar! However, it is also easy to create an unhealthy version of cranberry sauce using fresh whole cranberries. For instance when I bought a 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries at the grocery store, the cranberry sauce recipe on the back called for 1- 1 ½ cups of white sugar! I couldn’t believe my eyes! This recipe contains even more sugar than the canned alternative! With so much sugar in typical cranberry sauce, either in the canned form or using the free recipe, of course its going to taste amazing on top of the fatty and salty turkey meat. How could anyone resist the addicting combination of sugar, fat, and salt?
So, why is refined sugar unhealthy? Firstly, it does not contain any vitamins, minerals, or natural enzymes like raw honey or maple syrup. Secondly, and more importantly, large amounts of sugar in the diet may contribute to systemic inflammation, increasing the progression of chronic disease. In addition, refined sugar can also feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut, leading to yeast overgrowth and GI upset. Although most consumers may not be aware of their day-to-day sugar consumption, adult Americans are consuming on average 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. Compare that to the American Heart Association daily recommendations of 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women (1). Even more frustratingly, sugar is often hidden in refined and processed food; for instance pasta sauces and ketchup. No wonder we love to dip our fries in ketchup-it’s the magical sugar, fat and salt combination!
Sadly, during the holidays, sugar consumption increases even more dramatically, due to the constant temptations at every corner, including desserts, sweetened lattes, and other holiday adult beverages. For example, a 12 oz pumpkin spiced latte contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar alone. Now add to that the sugar in your morning pastry, the sugar in your favorite holiday dessert, and the sugar in your alcoholic drink of choice, as well as any additional hidden unknowns. All of a sudden you are probably up to an average of 30-50 teaspoons! Yeaowza!
So, how can you be more conscious and aware of your sugar consumption this holiday?
- Start by choosing whole food ingredients in place of processed or canned goods in your holiday recipes. By utilizing fresh cranberries in a recipe you can adjust the amount of sweetener you would like to add, instead of buying canned.
- Reduce the sugar amounts in your favorite recipes. Instead of adding in a whole cup, try adding in just ¾ or 2/3 of a cup and see if you notice too much of a difference.
- Try swapping unrefined sugar with healthier alternatives like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, or sucanat for added vitamins and minerals.
- Add dried fruit to recipes in place of extra sugar to add sweetness as well as added fiber and nutrients.
Just because you are reducing or omitting refined sugar, doesn’t mean that the food has to taste bad. As you reduce your sugar intake, your taste buds will change, and you will not crave as much sugar in your food. It’s a win, win situation for your health and that of your loved ones!
So in light of the sugar topic, today I am going to share with you a healthy alternative to your traditional, highly sweetened, cranberry sauce. The first difference is that it is raw—allowing all the powerful phytonutrients and enzymes in cranberries, which have been touted with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, to stay intact and work together synergistically. When heated, processed, and mixed with a lot of pro-inflammatory sugar, the health benefits of cranberries decreases (2). Keeping the cranberries raw, allows you to benefit from all their health promoting compounds!
Secondly, I only use maple syrup as a sweetener, and only ¼ cup, reducing the typical sugar amounts by ¾ or more! And thirdly, I add freshly squeezed orange juice, zest, and optional jalapeno to the mix, creating a zesty and bright raw cranberry chutney. The trick to this recipe is time. The longer it marinates in its own juices, the more developed the flavors become. I recommend making this recipe in advance and storing it in your refrigerator at least a day before you using it.
With that I leave you with a delicious and savory salad, topped with a raw cranberry chutney. The roasted sweet potatoes are to die for—mixed together with feta, toasted sesame seeds, a drizzle of raw honey, and chili flakes for extra spice. These usually don’t last long in my household, because I add them into salads, use them as sides, or even eat them alone. They are just that good! And with a dollop of cranberry chutney put on top…..you are in fall harvest heaven!
Raw Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 2 cups
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 orange, juice and zest
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 pinches sea salt
Optional: 1 deseeded jalapeno, finely minced
Rinse cranberries and strain. Pour onto a clean kitchen towel and pick out any soft cranberries.
Add the fresh cranberries into a food processor. If you want to add any jalapeno, do so now as well. Process until finely minced. Be careful not to process it too much, because then it will become too soggy.
Spoon into a large bowl and mix with orange juice, zest, and maple syrup. Season with a pinch or two of sea salt.
Store in a glass jar for up to one week.
Note: This chutney gets more flavorful with time. Tastes great tossed in salads, in wraps, sandwiches, or along with your Thanksgiving turkey.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey, Feta, and Sesame
Makes about 4 cups
2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 ½ tablespoons hulled sesame seeds
1/3 cup crumbled feta (fresh feta is the best)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, chop the sweet potatoes into bite sized pieces, leaving the peel on, and place into a medium bowl. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave until liquid, about 30 seconds, and pour over the sweet potatoes. Toss well, until evenly covered.
Line a baking sheet with parchment, and evenly pour out the sweet potatoes onto the sheet, making sure that none are overlapping. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, and return to the oven to bake 3 more minutes.
Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the sweet potatoes with raw honey, crumbled feta, fresh parsley, chili flakes, and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Mix well and serve warm or cold.
Note: I like to toss mixed greens, or romaine hearts, with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper, a cup of warm roasted sweet potatoes, and a dollop of raw cranberry chutney. Super easy and tasty!
1. American Heart Association. Sugar, Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Added-Sugars-Add-to-Your-Risk-of-Dying-from-Heart-Disease_UCM_460319_Article.jsp. Accessed November 9, 2014.
2. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Cranberries. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145. Accessed November 9, 2014.