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A Gluten Free Holiday I: Staying Healthy Over the Holidays–with Coconut Raspberry Truffle Cups

Welcome to A Gluten Free Holiday 2010, the brainchild of Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free! I’ve got lots to share today, so grab a cup of coffee and a (gluten free) biscotti, and read on! To enter the giveaway, click here🙂 [Update, November 10:  The contest is now closed.  Thanks, everyone, for entering!]

I’m delighted to be kicking off the gluten-free festivities here at DDD with some tips about how to stay healthy through the holidays.  Be sure to check this space every Thursday for five more themed posts from other gluten free bloggers. And please link up any healthier holiday recipes you have, via the linky tool at the bottom of this post–and don’t forget to enter to win one of two fabulous cookbooks by much-loved gluten free authors!

Those of you who read my blog regularly likely know two things about me: 1) I have been struggling with weight issues on and off for many years; and 2) I don’t believe in diets that impose too many “rules.”  I don’t count calories, points, or carb grams.  At the same time, I do believe–resolutely–in eating real, whole, healthy foods, and that the weight will take care of itself (so far, in the past couple of years, it’s worked for me: my weight dropped 45 pounds and has stabilized within a 5 pound margin by eating this way).

Still, the holidays can be tricky.  We all love to eat delicious food, and so much of it abounds this time of year! One thing I’ve learned after navigating this holiday land mine for the past two decades or so is to ensure that I never feel deprived.  It’s easy to “overcompensate” when everyone around you is drinking champagne, scarfing chocolate truffles, gulping eggnog or gorging on shortbread–and all you have are some celery sticks with almond butter. 

[Does this look like deprivation to you?]

My holiday food survival guide doesn’t include deprivation, “eating a small meal before going to a party” (that never worked for me: I ate the small meal beforehand, then still ate a full meal at the party); or living on liquids the day before a social event.  However, it does allow you to indulge, enjoy, and still avoid weight gain. Here are my own–albeit slightly unconventional–tips for staying healthy over the holidays.

1) Keep to your regular routine as much as possible.  This isn’t an “eating” rule per se, but it’s so crucial, I’m putting it first. Our bodies like routine.  I once read that Madonna rises at the exact same time each morning and works out even if she’s been on stage and out partying until 3:00 AM that same day.  Though you may be socializing more than usual at this time of year, if you can retain a semblance of your usual schedule, your body will recover faster.  And sleepy people tend to eat more, which can also lead to weight gain.  So try to keep to your regular sleep routine and keep exercising, even if it’s less than usual: take the stairs at work, park a bit farther and walk, march in place while you brush and floss your teeth (yes, I’ve been known to do this), do bicep curls in the car at red lights,  whatever you can.  

2) Go for quality rather than quantity, and consume whole food ingredients whenever possible. Sure, the seven-layer dips and cheese balls and canapes are incredibly appealing, and you shouldn’t deny yourself if that is what you really want.  But if you look for the nutritional value of the foods as your primary criterion, you’ll find you naturally eschew anything processed, artificial, or sugar-laden.  For me, the choice is easy because I can’t eat refined carbs (white sugar, white flour, etc.)–I will naturally gravitate toward the veggie tray, for instance.  According to this rule, even roasted nuts would be preferable to crackers and dip, though yes, they are probably higher in fat than the former. Since they’re also more nutritious and more satisfying, I find I’m happy eating a bit less, so it evens out in the end. If you stick to “real” in whatever you eat, you’ll find that naturally eliminates a lot of the holiday excess.

3) Don’t feel you have to “save the best for last.” In the past, I’d approach a holiday buffet table with the mind set, “I’ve got to try every food I like.” Yet I’d start with salads and veggies because they were “healthier.”  Then I’d want to eat the main dishes I liked, too, and by the time I reached the desserts, I’d be stuffed.  But who says you can’t start with dessert?  You may find that after a little piece of (real) apple pie, you are happy with nothing more than a cup of tea or a serving of veggies.  And since you’ve been maintaining your regular whole-foods diet at home, this little detour won’t impact your nutritional balance in any lasting way.  

[Everyone will want to share if you show up to a party with these babies!]

4) If you really want to enjoy dessert with abandon, it’s best to bring your own. I’ve gotten in the habit of volunteering to bring dessert whenever I’m invited to someone’s home for dinner.  That way, I know that I can enjoy the dessert with everyone else, and the other guests never know they’re eating something “healthy.” These raspberry-filled truffle cups are a perfect indulgent treat, and one that contains good-for-you ingredients. They’re sweet, rich, delicious–and you won’t feel as if you are missing a thing.  In fact, you might wish to make a double batch to ensure that you actually get some before they’re all scooped up! (See recipe, below.)

5) Remember that the real purpose of the holidays is to connect with people who are important to you; so focus on the human interactions and not the interactions of food and your mouth.  If you concentrate on socializing and enjoying your friends and family, you may find that sampling all the holiday comestibles becomes a bit less important in your list of priorities this time of year. But even if you veer from your preferred eating habits, don’t berate yourself; move on and return to your regular habits the following day.  

Andrew Weil, the popular doctor-cum-alternative health guru has some relevant advice in his bestselling book, Eating Well for Optimum HealthAs Weil points out, sometimes the social aspect of eating has a larger impact on our overall health than the specific nutritional value of the food.  He concludes with an anecdote illustrating that when “food is blessed by being shared, by being eaten in fellowship amidst conversation and laughter. . . all food is ‘health’ food.” I couldn’t agree more.

Here’s to a healthy, happy (gluten free) holiday season!

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Raspberry-Filled Truffle Cups (vegan, sugar free, grain free, gluten free)

from Diet, Dessert and Dogs (http://dietdessertndogs.com)

The trick to the oozy raspberry center is a single, naturally sweet frozen berry, which then softens inside the truffle cup as it defrosts.  The chocolate coating on its own may be less sweet than you’re used to (akin to an 85% cacao chocolate bar), but combined with the very sweet coconut filling, the total effect is sublime. If you are okay with a wee bit of sugar, you could always use semisweet chocolate instead (or chips), for a sweeter coating.

Chocolate Base and Coating:

2 ounces (70 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 Tbsp (30 ml) unsweetened carob powder or flour

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp (20 ml) coconut oil, preferably organic

20-30 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid

Filling:

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp (60 g or 2 oz) natural almonds with skin, lightly toasted

1 cup (85 g or 3 ounces) shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tsp (10 ml) coconut butter or coconut oil

1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar

1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract

1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt

8-10 whole frozen raspberries (keep frozen until ready to use)

Prepare the chocolate: Line a mini muffin tin with 10 metallic paper cups. (You can use the paper cups without the muffin tin, but the tin offers extra support so the cups keep their shape.)

In a small, heavy-bottomed pot. melt the chocolate, carob powder and coconut oil over very low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth.   Remove from heat.

Using 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) per cup, pour chocolate onto the bottom of eight of the paper liners and spread it to cover.  Pop the muffin tin in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm up the chocolate.

In the meantime, make the filling:  In a food processor, whir the almonds and coconut until you have what looks like a coarse meal. Add remaining ingredients except the raspberries and blend until the mixture comes together resembling a sticky dough.

Using about 1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) per truffle cup, scoop out some mixture and form into a rough ball.  Make an indentation in the middle and push one frozen raspberry into it, then mold the mixture around the raspberry into a ball.  Repeat until all the mixture is used.  If you have more than 8 balls, coat the bottom of the extra paper liners with chocolate as needed (and freeze these as well before filling).

Place one coconut ball inside each paper liner, covering the bottom but taking care not to touch the sides (you may need to roll the “dough” into more of a cylinder shape so its sides don’t touch the liners).  Using 1-2 tsp (5-10 ml) of chocolate per cup, pour the melted chocolate over the coconut balls, starting in the center and rotating out to the edges, allowing the chocolate to flow down the sides and fill the paper liners. 

Place the tray back in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes until the chocolate coating is firm.  If you have extra chocolate, you can use it to drizzle swirls, loops, or other decorative designs on top of the truffle cups.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.   Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Makes 8-10 truffle cups.

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And now that we’ve eaten, let’s have some prizes!

As promised, each installment of the Gluten Free Holiday event brings with it giveaways!  If all this talk of healthy gluten free food and dessert is making you hungry, you can enter to win one of two amazing cookbooks–we’ve got four books to give away!  To learn more and enter the giveaway, just click here! (Sorry for the extra click–I am abiding by the rules set out by BlogHer, which stipulate that I can’t post a giveaway on the main page of my blog.)

Of course, you’re still welcome to link up a healthier recipe at the bottom of this page–it will still count as an entry!

PLEASE NOTE: This is not an exclusively vegan event as there are six different hostesses participating and not all of us are vegan. It’s the holidays: let’s open our kitchens to everyone on this one! 😀

The contest is now closed.  Thanks, everyone, for entering! 🙂

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