If you’re trying to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, the holidays can be a tough time.
It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out when the desserts are dished up or the treats are passed around.
The good news is there are still lots of ways to treat yourself during the holidays while limiting the amount of sugar you’re eating.
I dramatically reduced the amount of refined sugar in my diet in my third year of college after I realized the impact it was having on my health.
When it got to the holiday season, I suddenly became aware of how many of my favorite foods were loaded with sugar. It wasn’t just sweets, either. Even store-bought savory foods that I loved had plenty of added sugar.
For me, the best part of the holidays is the food. The thought of not eating what I wanted got me down.
That’s when I had the idea of transforming my favorite holiday dishes into homemade low-sugar versions. These healthier tweaks are sweetened with fruit and small amounts of honey rather than refined sugar.
I also started exploring a whole range of savory recipes that captured the best parts of the festive period — packed full of spices and holiday flavors, but with no added sugar, reduced sugar, or only natural sugars.
With lots of experimenting and a few fails, I found a way to go sugar-free over the holidays and still have an amazing food experience.
Whatever your reason for reducing your sugar intake, it’s important to remember that there’s a whole range of food out there you can still enjoy.
Cutting out sugar doesn’t mean going without. It just means it’s time to find new favorites!
You can find other treats that are just as good as traditional holiday food, if not better.
Don’t forget about the condiments, too. I make a reduced sugar cranberry sauce sweetened with orange juice and a small amount of honey or maple syrup rather than refined sugar.
You can also make your own versions of holiday drinks, which allows you to control what goes into them.
I always make homemade spiced mulled wine without sugar or sweetener and I think it’s better than glühwein! (Gasp!)
Low sugar snacks
- Spiced nuts and popcorn in place of sweet snacks.
- Lower sugar versions of holiday classics, like naturally sweetened pecan pie or pumpkin pie.
- Super fancy cheese boards!
- Savory dishes. Think appetizers instead of dessert.
In my experience, the biggest challenge of being sugar-free over the holidays is the temptation.
When you see everyone else digging into holiday treats, it can be difficult to resist the call of the candy — especially if you have really strong sugar cravings.
When I first tried to reduce the amount of sugar in my diet, just the sound of someone opening a packet of cookies or unwrapping chocolate would trigger intense cravings.
Some advice I got from a friend was to try having a spoonful of nut butter instead.
Nut butter has a slight sweetness and fattiness that makes it really satisfying. It only contains natural sugars that are present in the nuts themselves.
Make sure you double-check the ingredients list, as some brands add sugar to their nut butters.
You can have a spoonful straight from the jar or spread it on rice crackers.
Remember that fruit also contains natural sugars. As fruit is nutrient-rich, it’s generally agreed that you shouldn’t cut it out in an attempt to reduce your sugar intake.
At the same time, if you find yourself eating dates, grapes, and other super-sweet fruit to help with cravings, you might want to swap in lower sugar fruits instead.
Tricks for cutting cravings
- Have healthy, satisfying snacks on hand like nuts, Greek yogurt, or savory crackers.
- Make a hot drink, minus the sugar (try stevia instead).
- Drink plenty of water.
- Anticipate cravings that come later in the day.
- Use distraction techniques like puzzles or going for a walk. Trust me, it works!
As well as combating sugar cravings, the other major issue to contend with when you’re sugar-free over the holidays is the expectation of family and friends.
Some people said they felt guilty about eating dessert around me. Others tried to get me to join them, or would just insist on dishing me up sweet things even when I said no.
A few times, I ended up eating stuff that I didn’t want just because I felt bad!
You don’t have to take that on.
Instead, avoid the awkwardness by making sure you’re super upfront with friends and family about your choices. It can help to explain why you’re doing it.
And don’t feel bad about politely saying no.
Even if you’re avoiding sugar, you can still find ways to treat yourself over the holidays.
You can sub healthier versions of holiday classics or opt for savory dishes instead.
You don’t have to avoid sweet things completely. You can simply limit the amount you’re having by practicing portion control.
You can also look for other ways to indulge over the holidays that aren’t food-related, like taking a relaxing bath or lighting scented candles around the house. This allows you to immerse your senses in other ways.
The most important thing is to find balance.
Don’t punish yourself if you do end up eating more sugar than you planned. Whatever you choose to do, leave space for peace and enjoyment over the holiday period.
Elizabeth Harris is a writer and editor with a focus on plants, people, and our interactions with the natural world. She’s been happy to call many places home and has traveled across the world, collecting recipes and regional remedies. She now splits her time between the United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary, writing, cooking, and eating. Learn more on her website.