Cooking, nutrition

3 Low-Carb Holiday (or Anytime!) Baking Essentials

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Christmas is upon us, and you know what that means!

Sugar! And it’s everywhere!!

I’ve eaten more cookies than I care to admit, and we just keep getting more sweets in the house. It’s like they’re just materializing directly on my kitchen counters, waiting for me to sneak in after my 4-year-old goes to bed and tear ’em up.

So, I haven’t been a very good low-carb eater these days, but I’m finally back to eating well and I fully intend to stay that way into the new year.

That is why today I’d like to share with y’all some of my favorite low-carb swaps so you can enjoy versions of all your favorite holiday treats that will have minimal effects on your blood sugar and insulin levels, and help you stay in ketosis.

Keep in mind that although these products are typically very low in net carbs, they contain lots of fiber and/or sugar alcohols. So if you overdo it, you may be spending a lot of time on the toilet.

However, it’s truly amazing what great low-carb alternatives are available that weren’t around just 5 or 6 years ago!

Here are some of my favorite holiday (or anytime!) baking ingredients:

Lily’s Baking Chips

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Lily’s baking chips are phenomenal. I love the milk chocolate ones because they taste just like a Hershey’s bar, but only have 2 net carbs per serving.

They melt extremely well and are perfect for dipping candies, baking chocolate chip cookies, or eating by the handful when you just need a little something sweet.

In fact, there are about 5 days out of every month when I go really hard on these things. Just being honest.

I buy mine at Wal-Mart, but if they’re not available near you they can be ordered on Amazon.

Natural Mate Monkfruit Sweetener

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I’ve tried several different zero-net-carb sweeteners, and Natural Mate Monkfruit Sweetener is by far my favorite.

Stevia has a strong bitter aftertaste, and erythritol has that “cooling” effect in your mouth that can be kind of strange. My first attempt at low-carb baking was a king cake made with erythritol, and the sensation was just far too much. I’m also making a concerted effort to avoid artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame when possible because they may damage your gut microbiota and decrease your glucose (sugar) tolerance.

The Natural Mate Monkfruit happened to be on sale when I needed to order some sweetener, so I gave it a shot. I was so¬†pleasantly surprised! The taste and texture is indistinguishable from sugar, but it is twice as sweet so you only need half as much. It does contain some erythritol, but absolutely no cooling effect unless you’re eating it by the spoonful (which I don’t recommend).

I’ve made so many really tasty low-carb treats using monkfruit, like marshmallows (for s’mores) and pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

I buy my Natural Mate sweetener on Amazon. Buy in bulk to save some money, and Natural Mate almost always send you a fun sample of one of their other products!

Psyllium Husk Powder

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My final recommendation is one that I only just started using, but it’s definitely become a baking essential for me. Psyllium husk is 99% fiber, and it’s normally used as a supplement to help ya poop.

HOWEVER, it adds this perfectly bready, soft, glutinous texture to low-carb breads that really makes them more… carb-like, I guess. This is because it turns to a gel in the presence of liquid, which (TMI) is the same reason it can help relieve constipation!

You really need to try it in fathead dough, because it takes the dough from “bread-like” to straight-up bread.

It’s also awesome in 90-second bread, which I make often for a quick meal of avocado toast (I’m a millennial, after all) or cheese toast. Before I started using psyllium husk powder in the recipe, the bread was edible but extremely dry and didn’t have the right texture. However, I found a recipe (linked above) using psyllium husk and it makes the bread perfectly soft, chewy, and wonderful.

I use NOW Foods Psyllium Husk Powder that I order on Amazon. I’ve heard some reports that psyllium husk powder can turn your food purple (ha!), but I haven’t had that experience myself.

Bonus: Parchment Paper and Silicon Baking Mats

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Since you can’t use flour to dust everything and keep your doughs from sticking to cookie sheets, your hands, the annoyingly hard to clean ridges on the edge of your counters, etc, it’s important to keep some parchment paper on hand for low-carb baking too. This makes it a breeze to roll out sheets of dough for cookies, pizza crust, or cinnamon rolls.

I also recommend silicon mats for your baking sheets. When I worked at Subway in college, I loved these things! They were the perfect nonstick surface for bread and cookies. I finally got some of my own and I’m totally in love. I use them almost daily. Here are the ones I bought. Considering I only paid about $25 for the set of 3 cookie sheets and 3 mats, I’ve been really impressed with the quality.

I understand it’s a little late to share this for Christmas baking, seeing as Christmas is in 2 days. If you’re anything like me you couldn’t get paid enough to go to Wal-Mart or a grocery store right now.

BUT, I think low-carb baking is a really fun hobby. It’s so satisfying to make treats that I can enjoy without getting kicked out of ketosis, and it’s even better when it’s something my family likes too!

So whether you are staying “on plan” over the next few days, or enjoying all the foods that only come around once per year, remember: don’t stress out about it, enjoy yourself, and enjoy the time with your family.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

nutrition

My Nutrition Philosophy

I think every dietitian has a nutrition philosophy that is shaped by their own experiences, relationship with food, and – of course – their education (which, for the record, is very thorough… new dietitians are now required to have a Master of Science degree, and many of us older dietitians got one just for kicks).

As someone who pursued a job in nutrition as a result of my own life-long struggles with my weight, I have thought and thought and thought about my own nutrition philosophy, and now I’m ready to share it.

basil leaves and avocado on sliced bread on white ceramic plate
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

If I had to write a Michael Pollan style food mantra, mine would be: “Eat real food. Not too much. And don’t stress out about it.”

As someone who was born over 10 pounds and who has pretty much been fat ever since, I have tried so many diets. I had some fleeting success with Weight Watchers back in high school, but gained all that weight back and then some in the years that followed. Calorie counting, paleo, vegetarian… all failures for me in the realm where it really mattered to me, my weight. It just seemed like I couldn’t trick my brain into being satisfied with a reasonable amount of “healthy” food… ever.

However, the one dietary framework that really seems to work for me is low-carb/keto, along with intermittent fasting. When I stick to it, the weight falls off, my skin clears up, my stomach flattens, and I have so much more energy. Of course, the hard part is sticking to it faithfully in a world that is filled with sugar.

BUT, I’m not so much of a zealot that I think everyone should be on keto. I understand, accept, and embrace the fact that different things work for different people. However, I think there are some low-carb concepts that would work wonders in improving the overall health of most people:

  • Eat fewer carbs. Most carbs are crap, and people are eating way too many of them.
  • Avoid seed oils. Vegetable oil is nasty, inflammatory, and just plain terrible for you. Stick to butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and other natural fats.
  • Drink more water. And definitely don’t drink your calories (because, let’s face it, drinking calories should more accurately be called drinking sugar).
  • Eat more produce. Veggies are delicious. Eat more of them. And fruit too, if your blood sugar is well-controlled.
  • Don’t fear the fat. Fat is good for you. Saturated fat is NOT bad for you. More calories per gram does not equal less healthy.
  • Stop salt-shaming. Your body needs salt. Salt sensitivity is a real thing, but affects a minority of people. There are many other factors that have a bigger effect on your blood pressure.
  • Limit snacks. Snacks don’t cure hangryness. They cause it.

In addition to the diet aspect, though, I have to discuss what I consider some of the biggest keys to wellness. These are just as important as diet… if not more so, in some instances.

  • Get enough sleep. 7-9 hours per night for adults. The importance of this cannot be overstated.
  • Decrease the amount of stress in your life. Work stress, family stress, relationship stress, financial stress, commute stress… all of it. Find ways to decrease the stress in your life. It’s terrible for you. This includes stressing out about your diet and/or weight.
  • Exercise. Focus on resistance training over steady-state cardio. Try to make it enjoyable. (This is my eternal struggle right here.)
  • Connect with others. We need each other.
  • Have fun. And sometimes you just need to drop everything and play with your kids for a little bit, or watch some Netflix, or even on rare occasion eat carbs. (Scandalous, I know).

So those are my basic thoughts on diet, nutrition, health, and wellness. I know they may not jive with everyone, and that’s okay.

I realize they might make me sound like some kind of wellness saint, but I am far from it. I still have weight to lose, I struggle with my sweet tooth, I hate exercise, and I love to stay up late when I know I have an early morning the next day.

But I believe I have found a set of food ideals that I can live with for the rest of my life, that focus on healthy foods without being authoritarian, along with focusing on the other huge lifestyle factors that play a key role in health.

How about you? What’s your nutrition philosophy?

Do you need help expressing it in an elegant, organized, and succinct way for your website, so your potential clients can get to know you better? I can help with that! Click here to contact me.