Ask The Nutritionist: What are good low-carb options for the festive season?

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long shares with readers 7 low-carb holiday hacks...

Dear Nutritionist,

I’m trying to stay low-carb: I cut out the grains and sugars and have lost quite a bit so far three months in. So right now I’m a bit stressed about the holidays. Can you give any suggestions for how to handle all the festivities and not flub my diet? I will carry carrots in my purse if I have to, but it’s not much fun. Advice would be appreciated! Great column!

Thanks, Linda Liking Low-Carb


Dear Linda,

Thank you for your question. There ere are indeed several things you can do to stick to your low-carb lifestyle over the holidays. As with everything diet related, the secret to success is a little know how and a lot of planning. Let me share some tips with you. 


1. Know your safe foods: When you’ve been swamped by life and haven’t planned, this is your survival strategy. Most parties offer crudites and these are a safe bet, as long as the dip isn’t sweet. If you pair them with fats, you will feel satisfied. You may also be able to find cured meats like salami and prosciutto, as well as seafood like shrimp, oysters, mussels, and smoked salmon. And be shellfish! (couldn’t resist!) Take what you need to feel like you have food on your plate! These are all good choices on low carb and will satisfy you. Pate is also safe, and can be eaten on cucumber rounds or in celery sticks, and olives, sour pickles and nuts (if not sweetened) are also great. Escargot, meatballs, wings, or ribs are less frequent party fare, but they’re fine if they’re offered, as long as they aren’t swimming in sweet sauce. And cheeses are generally low-carb, as are most creamy dressings, so you may have a number of choices you didn’t realize. Just don’t make the mistake of only eating veg and no fat or protein or you are going to have very little self control near anything sweet. Grab your plate and fill it once or twice and move to the opposite side of the room of the sweet table, and even turn you back to it if you need to. Twenty minutes after you’ve eaten, any cravings you experience will pass once your fat adapted (in ketosis), so don’t worry they will wear you down.


2. Pack a bar: You should always have a few low-carb protein bars (the chocolate covered type) in your purse for party back-ups. I actually like the Atkins ones. I don’t advocate them for regular missed meals, as fasting is a better option and these aren’t the healthiest choice, but when other people are enjoying a buffet and there isn’t much you can have, these are dense and sweet and will get you through. And, if you have enjoyed the items above but still feel like a sweet, these will also do to help you feel satisfied. If you don’t have self control with them in your purse you can keep them in your car in this weather and just grab them as needed for back-up.


3. Grabba java: A few MCT oil capsules and a nice, creamy or frothy coffee with some whole earth added in or one of the paleo coffees on the market that come in handy single serve packets and contain added nutrients to curb appetite is a great follow-up to a crudite and protein plate. Once you add your sweetener these are a satisfying as any dessert for fat adapted folk.


4. Don’t drink the cool aide: Forgo the soda, juice, cider, and most alcohol. Most people drink their carb calories at parties, and even thought it’s low carb, diet soda can still cause an insulin spike and all the downstream weight gain and sugar cravings. That’s not even getting into all the fun of artificial sweeteners and the negative impact they have on the gut biome and brain. So skip it. You can get around this by bringing your own drinks. If you like soda get Zevia, a brand sweetened with stevia, which I have tested to be safe for even diabetics. If you like alcohol, read this article on which are lowest in carbs to bring with you. That small bit of preparation may be all you need to keep from cheating. But if you lose self control when you drink, why bother? And, s you well know, if you cheat on drinks you’re going to say to yourself, well, the diet is ruined so I may as well go for the dessert table. Then you have to get back into ketosis the next week, which is not easy when you’re new to it. Easier to just plan ahead.


5. No need to get crusty: While pizza parties happen all year round, not just at Christmas, this gives you another option. If you know there will be pizza served you can ask in advance that the order be placed with a pizzeria that offers cauliflower crust and that a few are ordered. Your colleagues will be eager to try this, too, so make sure to get more than you will consume. Trust me, once you try a good cauliflower crust pizza, you won’t have any desire to go back and there may be other people in the office thankful that you took the initiative! If cauliflower crust isn’t an option, some pizzerias offer crustless and if they don’t you can also eat only the toppings (but no pineapple). Unless you are extremely gluten sensitive this will keep you in ketosis and ensure you can enjoy the party.


6. Strategize your sweets: We all desire something sweet sometimes, and this is harder when they are all around us! If you know you’re going to be tempted by what’s at the dessert table, make your own sweets in advance and freeze them in little batches to take with you. Of course, you can make enough to put out to share (again, people will be thankful) or keep your own stash with you, depending on what fits the situation and goes over best with the host(ess). A few recipes I like are these peanut butter bars, these chocolate chip cookie fat bombs, and these chocolate mint cupcakes. If you want more ideas, this entire recipe blog, by ancestral foodie Megan Stevens (who healed herself of several chronic disorders with food) is incredible. I highly recommend her cookbook Eat Beautiful for anyone looking for something more than the standard gluten-free, sugar-free fare. To transport keto goodies it’s best to use glass containers with really great fitting lids and keep them cold because, as fat melts, it can loosen poorly sealed lids and make a royal mess. Fat also leeches plastic from containers. Best to be safe and never try to carry these goodies in your purse!


7. Get in on the plan: If you are in a position to have any influence over the fare featured at the party, this is another great solution. If it’s catered, you can suggest a local chef who offers low-carb selections and promote local small business at the same time! Just make sure you have names/ menus to present when the topic comes up. If it’s catered and that isn’t an option you can also suggest a side budget for a few of these selections from a smaller company as an alternative. You can also make suggestions of specific dishes. For example, if they are ordering Chinese and you can’t change that, you can request they order a dish or two you know you can have. If they ask the office what they want you can privately let the decision maker know you are following a diet for health reasons that would benefit if there could be a few selections that are low-carb, giving examples. If they are open and you’re able, you could bring a few trays. If you aren’t a good cook, you can order and pick up trays that reflect your needs - it only takes a bit of planning. This isn’t selfish! Advocating for yourself can be done in a way that is respectful and benefits everyone because it helps others feel empowered to stay true to their lifestyle choices during the holidays, as well.

8. Take a seat: Companies typically like to pay for nice Christmas parties and not offset the meal prep to employees, so your involvement may be limited by the venue, but you may be able to request a sit down meal instead of a buffet style. You will have more clout, of course, if enough people prefer it. The benefit of this is that dessert is usually one dish at the end and not a continuous table of options. The meal is typically going to be more rounded and closer to what you need, but you can ask to see the menu in advance and even contact the venue to make a plan for your needs. Don’t be shy! The worst they can say is no, we can’t accommodate you! Best case scenario, you are able to enjoy the dinner fully with your colleagues, without worrying about feeling ill for a week afterwards while you try to get back into ketosis.

9. Fashionably late: If all else fails, you can also come after the meal is over, having eaten away from the party, and just settle in for the festivities after. If you discuss this with your boss or host(ess) in advance it should not be perceived as rude, and you can make a presence and share in the fun while still avoiding any pressure you might feel to eat foods you don’t want to consume anymore. 


These tips apply to all parties, seasonal or not, work related or not. The important take away is that if you want to succeed you need to have a plan that you alone are responsible to voice and implement. First, though, you have to decide if it’s important to you. Many people say they want to follow a diet and change their lifestyle for good, but use each party as an excuse to drop all their healthy lifestyle gains and slide back into old habits, which can be comforting, but which certainly doesn’t get us closer to our health goals! Do we really like undoing all the work we’ve done and losing all the gains (or losses) we’ve painstakingly made? And how much work does it take - truthfully - to reach out to the organizer or host(ess) to make that plan? 


I hope this is helpful, dear readers. And I’ll be back next week with some holiday recipes to keep you on track. Right now I have to call a lady about a party menu. ;)


Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista

Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.


Do you have a question about health and wellness? Email nonienutritionista@gmail.com

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