Hello fall! And hello delicious fall flavors–do you associate fall foods with guilt as well? I know, a lot of people do but guess what, it doesn’t have to be that way. First of all, Fall produce and fruit are super healthy and packed with nutrients: pumpkin, sweet potato, kabocha, delicata squash, kale, Swiss chard, apples, pears, and the list goes on. All of these are super foods and you should definitely not feel guilty eating them. The issue is often the amount of oil and sugar we add to these gems.
Having grown up in Europe, I definitely felt similarly that the Fall and Winter season where often accompanied by rich foods, large feasts and lots of extra sweets that we wouldn’t eat during the rest of the year. The major difference was probably that we often kept these rich foods to just Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve – so the excitement was literally building up for weeks and days. Here in the US, I feel a bit more bombarded with holiday food, starting end of summer. And with Thanksgiving, there is not only one but two major feasts within just a couple weeks.
The amazing thing is that eating plant-based already cuts out half of the evil (probably even more than that). Because truthfully, you won’t ever have to deal with saturated fats (the bad ones!) which are the ones that clog your arteries and drive up your cholesterol. But vegan doesn’t automatically mean healthy, that’s for sure. And a lot of times, especially processed vegan foods, contain a lot of added salt, fat and sugar to up the flavor profile and appeal to the mass market. This is especially true when it comes to vegan holiday foods.
There are some simple ways to cut out the big culprits–processed fats like oils and vegan butters as well as refined sugars such as cane sugar.
- When it comes to oil for baked sweet potatoes and all kinds of pumpkin varieties, pick a silicon mat and you won’t need any added oil. Silicon mats are really amazing and can be used in the oven up to a temperature of 450 degrees. They have a steaming effect on your veggies and will prevent them from sticking to the baking sheet, while developing great texture and flavor.
- If you have non stick pans, you can also cut out oil in any pan fried dishes as well as gravies and casseroles. Make sure you use plenty of spices and herbs to add flavor, focusing on sage, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and clove. That’s basically what oil is typically used for but it comes with zero nutrients.
- Also, veggie broth is a great substitute for oil when it comes to frying onions and garlic. And again, it adds some extra flavor too and is actually super easy to make yourself if you want to make sure it’s really unprocessed and with minimal added sodium.
- In terms of sugar, Let’s be realistic: dessert is dessert so don’t try to make it have the nutritional profile of broccoli. However, substituting white cane sugar for coconut sugar (low glycemic index = doesn’t make your blood sugar peak = better to prevent diabetes) or maple syrup, which has some additional minerals. Use dates to sweeten your pie fillings and extra apple sauce in baking to substitute for a part of the sugar (and oil!). And keep in mind that moderation is the king – no matter if you are talking about holiday desserts or desserts in general. Don’t deprive yourself, but also don’t train your palate to expect a dessert after each meal.
- Instead of automatically jumping to your family’s treasured–and very fatty–fall comfort foods for embracing the seasonal spirit, try creating your *own* healthy traditions that highlight rich yellows, oranges, reds, and purples of the season. Pumpkin pie, while delicious, isn’t good for eating every day–but how about this vegan golden turmeric milk or pumpkin smoothie? Even salad can be fall-festive, especially if it’s full of rich burgundy roasted beets.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to stick to a healthy holiday season without missing out on flavor. Sticking to the most unprocessed ingredients and cutting out oil and refined sweeteners is an easy way to live guilt free in Fall and Winter.
And if you are looking for more inspiration, check out my favorite recipes below:
Which of these fall foods are you excited for?
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Photo: Isabelle Steichen; Peaceful Dumpling