Survive the holidays on a keto diet.
The holiday season is different this year. Parties, whether at a friend’s home or the office, will be missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, those who gather with their own families (safely, we hope) will have the opportunity to eat their favorite holiday meals — often to excess.
For those following a keto diet, that can be tough. Many of the favored holiday treats, like cookies and cakes, potatoes and casseroles, are high in carbohydrates, which keto eaters eschew. Nevertheless, “It’s absolutely possible to follow a keto diet over the holidays,” says Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian and the bariatric surgery coordinator for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta and author of a blog that promotes healthful eating.
Keep it simple.
Before we begin, it must be said that most dietary experts are not fans of the keto diet. “I don’t think it is a sustainable option because it’s so restrictive,” says Wesley McWhorter, director of culinary nutrition for the Nourish Program at the Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.
“As a health professional, dietitian and someone who really loves food, these fad diets are restrictive and don’t work long term. There is no literature to show that they work, and typically people gain weight in the long term,” adds McWhorter, a professional chef who teaches nutrition education through hands-on culinary medicine courses.
“Having said that, if people are pursuing (a keto diet), there are plenty of options for holiday meals,” McWhorter says. Smith, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adds: “You may just have to keep your plate simple and do some investigating at meals to ensure they don’t contain grains, dairy products, legumes and starchy vegetables.”
Start with keto-friendly appetizers.
With all your holiday treats, “Focus on protein-rich foods and green veggie options,” Smith says.
For example, consider the following appetizers:
— Deviled eggs.
— Sweet potato circles topped with mashed avocado and bacon or turkey bacon.
— Jalapeño peppers filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon or spinach.
— Bacon-stuffed mushroom caps.
— Roasted, mixed nuts.
— Cooked, cold shrimp.
— Marinated olives.
— Sliced and cubed cheese.
— Mixed vegetable tray with guacamole or salsa.
Cook up a meaty main course.
If any part of the holiday meal is keto-friendly, it certainly should be this one. Roast your turkey, bake your ham, grill your fish — they are all great protein-rich options, Smith says.
The bad news: You need to avoid the bread-based dressing.
The good news: You can make a keto-worthy gravy.
Go for flour-free gravy.
A keto-friendly gravy is possible. Just replace the flour, which is typically used to thicken the gravy, with a keto-friendly thickening agent like xanthan gum. This binding agent is used in a lot of products, including gluten-free foods, and will help you concoct a thick, rich gravy without the carbs.
Mix in some almond flour baked goods.
Replace wheat flour with almond flour to bake homemade rolls and crackers. Spice them up with onion powder and dill or rosemary for a burst of seasonal flavor. And if you eat eggs, don’t forget an egg wash to create that golden, crunchy crust.
It’s all about veggies, veggies, veggies.
Roasted vegetables make perfect side dishes if you’re on the keto diet, McWhorter says. “I’ve seen people (on a keto diet) tend not to consume enough vegetables with the false assumption that they all have a tremendous amount of carbs. My main suggestion is to load your plate with veggies.”
Even though root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes are a little higher in natural sugars, “I do not think they are unhealthy,” he adds. If you do, consider cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and green beans. The key is roasting them in the oven, not boiling them. “Boiled Brussels sprouts are disgusting. Roasted, they will change your world,” he says.
Roast them with good olive or canola oil, and toss in some salt, pepper and nuts.
Say yes to mashed potato alternatives.
“Be cautious of casseroles, even the veggie-filled ones, as the sauces and additional ingredients typically contain a significant amount of carbohydrates,” Smith says. “Stick with veggie-based dishes with few add-ins.” For example, try her Cauliflower Mash.
— 1 head cauliflower
— 2 tablespoons butter spread
— 2-4 tablespoons cream cheese
— 1 teaspoon parsley
— 1/4 teaspoon pepper
— 1/2 teaspoon salt
— 1 teaspoon garlic powder
— 1/2 teaspoon thyme
— optional: chives
1. Rinse the cauliflower; cut into small pieces.
2. In a large pot, bring about 6-8 cups of water to a boil.
3. Add cauliflower and let simmer about 10-15 minutes (or until cauliflower is extremely tender). Then, drain the water.
4. Add remainder of ingredients. Using immersion blender or food processor, blend ingredients until a puree texture is formed.
5. Add chives or green onions if desired.
It’s not a holiday without dessert.
Almond flour and other nonwheat flours can work well in a pie crust recipe, Smith says. For one example, try a keto cheesecake.
Combine two-thirds almond flour and one-third coconut flour for the crust. Add extra butter and replace sugar with keto-approved substitutes like Stevia or monk fruit.
For the filling, again substitute in nonsugar sweeteners with your cream cheese.
Enjoy some keto nog.
Egg nog is already mostly keto-friendly, with eggs, cream and milk that pass the nonvegan keto muster.
The caveat is in the sugar, which comes on strong, especially in commercial products. Fear not, because Stevia, monk fruit, honey and other alternative sweeteners will do the trick.
How to make it through the holidays on a keto diet:
— Keep it simple.
— Kick it off with keto-friendly appetizers.
— Cook up a meaty main course.
— Flour-free gravy.
— Include almond flour baked goods.
— Veggies are a must.
— Try mashed potato alternatives.
— Don’t forget about dessert.
— Enjoy some keto nog.
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