The key to a successful low-sugar lifestyle is to avoid falling back into the sugar cravings cycle. This is why holidays can present a real problem for some. Calling a special occasion a “cheat day” and binging on sweets can start a downward spiral, where you start to indulge more and more in sugar. Eating sugar makes you crave more sugar, and pretty soon your sugar consumption can get out of control.
Of course, depending on willpower alone isn’t the best approach, either. Saying “no” to a table filled with sugary desserts isn’t an enjoyable way to spend your holiday. Instead, get your fill with these low-sugar Thanksgiving dishes so you don’t overdo it when it’s time for dessert.
Sugar-Free Thanksgiving Entrees
While turkey itself doesn’t have sugar, a lot of people will brine the bird in a mix of sugar or apple cider and salt to keep the meat moist. And some families make it a tradition to serve ham for the holiday. Hams are often cured with sugar, and if your ham is glazed, you can bet that’s full of sugar, too. What’s the solution? If you like brining your turkey, cut the sugar and just use salt in the brine, like this recipe from The Kitchn. For the ham, look for one that doesn’t add sugar to the curing process, And pick a savory glaze like this spicy, mustard-based one.
Low-Sugar Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Traditional Thanksgiving sides like cranberry sauce and marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole are sugar bombs. A ¼ cup serving of canned cranberry sauce has 22 grams of sugar! It’s simple enough to substitute those dishes with healthier options.
Make your own low-sugar cranberry sauce, like this refreshing Cranberry-Orange Relish from Sweet Defeat CEO Arianne Perry: In a food processor, pulse a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, then add 1 thinly sliced orange (with skin), ½ thinly sliced lemon (with skin), and 1 cup chopped pecans and pulse until finely chopped. Stir in ¼ cup sugar and 2 ounces Grand Marnier. A ¼ cup serving of his relish has just 5 grams of sugar!
Or if you prefer a cooked sauce, try this cranberry sauce recipe from chef Tyler Florence, which has about 12 grams of sugar in a ¼ cup serving. Stick to just 2 tablespoons on your plate and you can cut your sugar dose in half.
When it comes to sweet potatoes, they have their own natural sugars, so there’s no need to douse them in brown sugar, maple syrup, or top them with marshmallows. Scrub them well, prick with a fork, then roast them in a 400°F oven until they’re soft and the juices caramelize, about an hour. Eat the skin to get an extra dose of fiber—and some of the best nutrients are just under the skin.
Another option is to mash sweet potatoes as an alternative to regular mashed potatoes. This recipe goes savory and adds a little butter and sour cream for creaminess. You can also go for dishes that incorporate butternut squash, which supply a little natural sweetness: Curried Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup is an elegant Thanksgiving starter.
Of course, green vegetables are the perfect addition to a low-sugar Thanksgiving feast, but they don’t have to be boring. Roasted brussels sprouts are always fantastic: halved and tossed with olive oil and salt, then laid cut side down on a sheet pan and roasted in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes, they caramelize in the oven for natural sweetness. And they don’t even need to be cooked: a raw shredded brussels sprouts and kale salad can be made ahead and sit at room temperature. When the oven is full of turkey and the other sides need to be heated, a refreshing and delicious low-sugar salad is just what you need.
Sugar-Free Thanksgiving Desserts
Dessert isn’t easy when you’re living a low-sugar lifestyle, but trying to bake using artificial or no-calorie sweeteners isn’t the answer. The taste of sweetness will still set off the sugar craving cycle. So choose an intentional indulgence: have a small piece of your favorite pumpkin or apple pie, then use a Sweet Defeat so you don’t go back for more. And if you want to avoid added sugars, create an amazing cheese platter, with grapes as a sources of natural sugar. You’ll still want to consume the cheese and fruit in moderation, but it’s a delicious and low-sugar way to end a bountiful meal.