7 Places Where Sneaky Sugar Hides in Holiday Foods

by JJ Virgin on November 22, 2022

For most people, Thanksgiving kicks off the season of feasting. Along the way, you’ve probably got holiday parties, family get-togethers, Christmas or Hannukah dinner, and a New Year’s Eve celebration to toast the upcoming year. 

Racking up a huge sugar intake throughout these events can make weight gain inevitable. As a result, you half-heartedly commit to losing that weight come New Year’s Day.  

Allow me to be the voice of sanity this season. You don’t need to sacrifice your favorite foods and beverages over the holidays, but you also don’t get a free pass to indulge in every high sugar impact catastrophe you encounter. 

You probably know that many holiday dinner table staples like pumpkin pie are loaded with sugar. (I’ve got a low-sugar, gluten-free pumpkin pie recipe that’s amazing, by the way!)  

But it’s the sneaky sugars that can really throw off your efforts. Because they often hide in “healthy” foods, you mentally give yourself permission to eat more and more. 

During the holiday season, be particularly mindful of these seven sneaky sugar sources. They may not taste as obviously sweet or carry the sugar-drenched aura of, say, eggnog cookies, but they can quickly derail your success. As you’ll see, you’ve got just-as-delicious lateral shifts (or healthier swaps) to replace these problem foods and beverages.  

A protein-packed loaded smoothie is the perfect way to crush cravings and balance your blood sugar during the holidays.* I’ve got over 60 recipes in this Loaded Smoothie Cookbook. Claim yours FREE here 

Seven Sneaky Sugars 

#1: Cranberry Sauce 

Cranberry sauce is a holiday staple that adds a dollop of color and flavor to meals. This favorite accompaniment often resides alongside holiday favorites like turkey and stuffing.  

Unfortunately, one slice (about ½ an inch thick) of traditional canned cranberry sauce packs about 24 grams, or six teaspoons, of sugar. That’s on par with a Snickers® bar! 

Swap it out: We’ve ditched the added sugar and upped the flavor in this Nutty Orange-Cranberry Sauce recipe. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries and raspberries, while the walnuts provide a delightful crunch.  

#2: Sweet Potato Casserole 

Digging into a casserole dish of mashed sweet potatoes is a familiar habit at most holiday dinner tables. But many sweet potato casseroles are a dessert. One recipe I found called for brown sugar, flour, and milk. Some even add marshmallows! Top that casserole with candied pecans or candied walnuts and you’re adding sugar on top of sugar on top of more sugar.  

Swap it out: These Healthy Garlic-Herb Mashed Potatoes include good-for-you garlic and bone broth (you may also use veggie stock). They provide the creamy texture of sweet potato casserole without the added sugar, dairy, and other “no” ingredients. 

#3: Green Bean Casserole 

Along with sweet potato casserole, this beloved staple finds its way into many holiday feasts. To be fair, green bean casserole doesn’t usually contain added sugar. However, ingredients such as milk (which contains the sugar lactose) and fried onions convert to sugar, making an incredibly healthy vegetable unhealthy.  

Swap it out: Consider this Green Beans with Shiitakes and Shallots recipe an upgraded version of the famous casserole. We’ve swapped soy sauce for coconut aminos, while shallots give them a lightly sweet flavor. They keep the amazing taste of the original, without problem ingredients. 

#4: Alcoholic Drinks 

For many people, holiday parties aren’t complete without a few adult beverages. Sure, there are the usual suspects like spiked eggnog. But even if your favorite alcoholic drink doesn’t taste sweet, ingredients like juices or tonic water can add a major sugar wallop. And I’m all about a glass of pinot noir from Dry Farm Wines, but skip the mulled wines that often contain added sugar and juices. 

Swap it out: This Ginger Mojito combines lime, mint, ginger, and probiotic water along with rum. (Yes, you can make it virgin!) You’ll still want to imbibe responsibly, but this delicious spin on the traditional mojito satisfies your taste buds and rivals sugar-loaded holiday beverages.  

Navigating temptations around the holidays can be challenging! The good news is that with the right approach, you can indulge and imbibe… without guilt or regret. My Holiday Help Cheat Sheet gives you smart, simple strategies to have fun, partake intelligently, and make the most out of this meaningful season. Grab it for FREE here.

#5: Hot Chocolate or Hot Apple Cider 

We all know that traditional hot cocoa delivers a massive sugar load. A tall Starbucks® hot chocolate (aka size “small”) contains a whopping 27 grams or over two tablespoons of sugar.  

To avoid that added sugar, you might choose something “healthier” like apple cider instead. Compared with apple juice, cider contains more of the polyphenols found in apples. But that’s about all this hot holiday beverage has going for it. Apple cider packs the same amount of sugar—24 grams (equivalent to six teaspoons or two tablespoons)—as apple juice in a tiny eight-ounce glass.  

Swap it out: This orange hot chocolate recipe ditches the added sugar, dairy, and other health-sabotaging ingredients. Instead, we’ve combined my chocolate All-In-One Shake protein powder with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, raw cacao powder, vanilla extract, and grated orange zest. You can even top it with a coconut-based whipped cream (I’ve got a healthy version in the recipe here). 

#6: Nuts 

Almonds and other nuts are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re loaded with protein, healthy fats, and important nutrients like magnesium and zinc. But they’re already very easy to overeat. When you’re grabbing a handful on the snack table, make sure they’re not candied. Dousing them with sugar creates a candy-like food that makes reaching for seconds and thirds irresistible.  

Swap it out: These Smoked Paprika and Cayenne Roasted Almonds have a lightly sweet taste (thanks to monk fruit sweetener), but most of their bold flavor comes from paprika and cayenne pepper. They’re sure to be a hit at your holiday party, so consider doubling the recipe. And remember that too much healthy food is still unhealthy, so proceed accordingly! 

#7: Glazed Meats 

I’m all about getting more protein into your holiday meals. But with honey-glazed ham, maple-marinated steak, and other glazed protein, you’re turning meat into dessert. What’s more, many processed meats like ham can contain gluten and other “no” ingredients. 

Swap it out: This Golden Roasted Turkey Breast packs major flavor with garlic, herbs, and ghee… but none of the added sugars you might find in traditional meats or potential food intolerances in processed meats. If you’re tired of turkey or want to mix things up a bit, these Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Sauteed Shiitakes create a rave-worthy entrée without problem ingredients.  

Bonus Sneaky Sugar Food: Stuffing 

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention stuffing, which is usually turkey’s BFF. Granted, most stuffing recipes don’t call for added sugar. However, the gluten and other potential food intolerances in traditional stuffing can create havoc on your gut and waistline. 

Swap it out: This Gluten-Free Bone Broth Stuffing combines cubes of toasted gluten-free bread with savory onion, celery, sage, and thyme. Moist on the inside and crisp on the outside, this will be your new favorite stuffing!  

Final Thoughts: Break Free of Your Sugar Addiction in Just 2 Weeks (Even During the Holidays) 

If you’ve ever resolved to break free of sugar, you know what a major challenge withdrawing can be. Equally frustrating are the “healthy” foods you’re eating that are loaded with sneaky sugars, especially around the holidays. Even the most vigilant sugar-avoider can find these foods difficult to evade because they’re everywhere. 

I wrote the Sugar Impact Diet to help people break free of sugar addiction without going cold turkey or suffering other miseries. The strategic, step-by-step approach in this book helps you gently remove high-impact sugars, shift from being a sugar burner to a fat burner, and emerge on the other side, ready to chart your maintenance path forward. 

People who’ve followed the Sugar Impact Diet had amazing results. Many lost 10 pounds in just two weeks! And they feel better than they have in years—symptoms we’re all told to believe are the normal signs of aging (like bloating, exhaustion, and joint pain) simply disappeared. You can see results like this, too!  

Imagine how wonderful breaking free of sneaky sugars can be, even while everyone else is gorging on gingerbread cake and holiday Mai Tais. In the Sugar Impact Diet, I’ll show you how to eliminate the hidden sugars holding your health and your waistline hostage from seven common food groups. Learn more and order your copy here 

The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.