Alas, the five-week span from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day lulls even the most health-conscious eater into an indulgent spirit, unable to discriminate between naughty and nice foods. While the New England Journal of Medicine reports the average American gains one to two pounds during this seasonal period (other sources estimate five pounds), the scale isn't the only watchdog of proper eating habits.
More important concepts include moderation, portion control, careful selection of choice fish, fowl, meats and produce, smart substitutions, along with following a gustatory ethos where grains, greens and proteins have equal billing on the plate.
Of course, no one should feel deprived, even the sweet tooths among us. Here are some tips to help you adopt (and enjoy) this new eating methodology to kick off the New Year:
Dough-re-mi: Practice carb control by supplanting pasty, edible Styrofoam (white flour) with hearty whole grains or other non-traditional flours. Wholesome, anti-inflammatory, protein-rich almond meal adds a nutty, chewy oomph to pie crusts, strudels, biscottis and pancakes, while a crispy coating to chicken scaloppini, eggplant Parmesan, fish or crab cakes. Since almond flour is grain-free it lacks the elastic "boing" of gluten, so add an extra egg to compensate.
Try quinoa flour with the complete complement of amino acids, or spelt flour, a grain derived from an ancient strain of wheat with sweet, nutty nuances reminiscent of whole-wheat but more delicate. Spelt's load of protein, iron and fiber makes a refreshing change up in scones, breads, and pizza crusts. My fave is chickpea or gram flour, a heart healthy staple of Indian cuisine. This gluten-free pulse creates sweet and savory indulgences including ladoo (spiced Ghee butter dough balls), crepes, frittatas and flatbreads.
Swap out ... Buns for grilled portabellos, eggplant slices or leafy greens to construct burgers or sandwiches; crackers for rice cakes or cucumber slices to make cold hors d'oeuvres with smoked salmon and creamy goat cheeses; sliced bread for celery stalks to stuff with almond butter and preserves; lasagna noodles for eggplant, butternut squash or zucchini; French fries for strips of baked sweet potatoes or roots (rainbow carrots, turnips, parsnips); squashes (pumpkin, acorn), or string beans; pasta or rice for diced cauliflower; ground beef for ground lamb, bison, lean poultry, chopped mushrooms; or firm fish for burgers, meatballs, chilis, sauces, tacos; fatty traditional mayonnaise for avocado oil-based or pea protein vegan mayo, horseradish mustard, aioli or garlic-herb Greek yogurt.
Use your noodle: White-flour pasta with high-carb content that hikes blood sugar levels and wallops the pancreas can be subbed for lighter, healthier imposters. Try raw shredded vegetables, julienne-style like zucchini, carrots and other roots baked au gratin, tossed with olive oil, lemon and garlic, or ginger soy for an Asian twist. Spaghetti squash blended with marinara sauce and Parmesan makes a novelty noodle dish. While Japanese Shirataki noodles made from sweet and starchy konjac yams, along with low-carb soba (buckwheat) and glass noodles are delicious in stir-fries.
Sweeten the deal: Since sugar is the most energy-depleting, immune suppressing, addictive food on the planet, it's time to redirect the sweet craving toward more nutritious alternatives:
• Stevia, a zero-calorie herb with no glycemic impact, can be safely used by diabetics and dieters.
• Xylitol, naturally found in fibrous fruits and vegetables, sweetens while preventing cavities as it retards bacteria growth. (However, it's poisonous to dogs.)
• Sucanat, unrefined cane juice with trace minerals that metabolizes slowly, avoiding a sugar rush, is ideal for assorted baked goods, along with iced and hot beverages.
• Honey, an immune-protective ancient food packed with vitamins and minerals, makes cakes and breads moist, tomato sauce mellow, hot cereals and pancakes indulgent, and meats bone tender.
• Coconut sugar derived from the sweet, nutritious drupe, has a rich caramelized color and flavor, making a great sugar substitute for baked and breakfast goodies, sauces, dressings and marinades.
• Date sugar, from the pulverized dehydrated fruit, has a load of dietary fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, and Vitamin A for a dandy brown sugar alternative.
• Brown rice syrup is a fat-free sweetener with honey-like consistency and butterscotch notes that's divine drizzled on breakfast treats, or in savory sauces.
Recipe: Eggplant Lasagna
• Ingredients: 1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise, 1/4 inch thick, unpeeled; 1 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese; 1 jar strained tomatoes (25-ounce); 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1/4 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil, rosemary; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1 teaspoon honey; sea salt, cayenne pepper to taste.
• Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a saucepan, heat oil on medium, sauté garlic until tender. Add tomatoes, herbs, spices and honey. Simmer 5 minutes. In a rectangular baking dish, spread sauce on bottom, place layer of eggplant, followed by sauce and cheese. Continue layering, finishing with a thick cheese covering. Bake about 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.