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Sugar-Smart Holidays

Low-glycemic food choices that have fewer carbs than usual gluten-free fare

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It’s the holiday season-that time of year filled with carb-laden stuffing, potatoes, and baked goods that send blood-sugar levels soaring. This can lead to uneven energy levels, unwanted weight gain, and a worsening of prediabetic or diabetic blood sugar levels.

Eating gluten free doesn’t solve these problems. In fact, many times the problems get worse. That’s because ingredients typically used in gluten-free recipes-such as rice, corn, and millet-are high in carbohydrates and high on the glycemic index (meaning they spike blood sugar levels). That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are foods that are both gluten free and low glycemic or low carb, so you can enjoy sweet treats and seasonal pleasures without bitter health consequences. Try these tips for staying gluten-free and sugar-smart this holiday season:

Dump sweetened beverages. The easiest way to be sugar-smart is to avoid sweetened drinks, including festive punches and soda. Opt instead for sparkling mineral water, unsweetened iced tea, hot tea, or coffee.

Use nut flour, coconut flour, or bean flour in baking. Nut flours are naturally low in carbohydrates and rich in nutrients, and they can be used to make everything from pie crusts to muffins to fruit crisps. As an added bonus, studies show that eating nuts regularly reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The easiest nut flour to begin working with is blanched almond flour, offered by companies such as Dowd & Rogers and Honeyville. Other low-glycemic options for baking are fiber-rich coconut flour, hazelnut flour, or bean flours, such as garbanzo and fava flour.

Sweeten desserts sensibly. Use low-glycemic sweeteners in baked goods, and reduce the amount of sweetener in recipes when possible. An easy substitute for high-glycemic honey is low-glycemic coconut nectar. An easy alternative for white sugar in recipes is unrefined coconut sugar. Unlike agave nectar, neither coconut nectar nor coconut sugar is high in fructose, which is important, as excessive fructose intake is implicated in the development of obesity and insulin resistance.

Choose red potatoes over baking potatoes. Potatoes are high-carbohydrate foods that rank notoriously high on the glycemic scale and can be quite fattening when overeaten. If you opt for potatoes as a side dish at a holiday meal, try to use red new potatoes, which are lower on the glycemic scale than russet potatoes, and limit yourself to a small serving.

Say no to bread. Avoid gluten-free bread and stuffing made with gluten-free bread or corn bread if possible. Instead make a stuffing using long-grain brown rice, onions, mushrooms, and celery, and fats such as olive oil or nuts, which lower the glycemic effect of the dish. For a lower-carb alternative, ditch gluten-free grains altogether and make a vegetable- and nut- or seed-based stuffing.

Skip The corn. Corn is a high-glycemic, high-carb grain that can fatten us up just as it fattens up cattle. In place of corn, serve low-glycemic legumes, such as green peas, or better yet, lower-glycemic, lower-carb green beans, asparagus, or broccoli. Also, be sure to have salad. Leafy greens and salad vegetables have so few carbohydrates that even in generous serving sizes they won’t affect your blood sugar very much. And that means stable energy levels to enjoy your holidays more fully.

Low-Glycemic Apple Crisp
Serves 12

With blanched almond flour, walnuts, and organic coconut nectar, this naturally gluten-free dessert is a low-glycemic alternative to apple pie made with refined white rice flour, starches, sugar, or honey-and a perfect end to a holiday meal.

1¾ cups blanched almond flour

½ tsp. unrefined sea salt

1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, divided

½ tsp. nutmeg

1-3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

2 Tbs. unrefined organic extra virgin coconut oil, warmed so it is liquefied

4 Tbs. organic coconut nectar, divided

1 Tbs. gluten-free vanilla extract or vanilla flavor

4 cups Gala apples, peeled, sliced thin, and chopped in half width-wise

1 Tbs. arrowroot powder

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix almond flour, sea salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, and walnuts in medium bowl. Mix coconut oil, 3 Tbs. coconut nectar, and vanilla in separate bowl. Stir wet ingredients into dry, then combine ingredients with hands to create crumbly mixture.
  2. Grease 8- by 11½-inch, 2-quart casserole dish. Mix apples, remaining coconut nectar, arrowroot, and remaining cinnamon together in mixing bowl. Arrange apple mixture in baking dish. Crumble topping over apples.
  3. Bake 18-20 minutes, until dish is fragrant and top is brown but not burnt. Serve warm.


* Recipe reprinted from the Going Against the Grain Group, 2011.