A healthy twist on a Christmas staple

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A healthy twist on a Christmas staple

Sunday, November 29, 2020

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CHRISTMAS is right around the corner and, as is customary, with the festive season comes a heavy consumption of popular foods.

Christmas fruit cake is considered a must-have during the season, but with large amounts of ingredients like eggs and butter, which are rich sources of cholesterol, nutritionists have advised that individuals may want to reduce the amount they eat or remove it from the menu entirely.

But what if there was a way to enjoy the same great flavour from traditional Christmas fruit cakes with healthier ingredients? Health food brand Not Jus' A Salad has created a recipe, which it says reduces and eliminates some of the ingredients that make consuming the delicious cake a threat to the healthy functioning of the body.

For its recipe, the health food brand has removed sugar, replacing it with agave nectar.

According to Dr Joanne Smith, a nutritionist and lecturer at the Caribbean Institute for Health Research at The University of the West Indies, agave nectar provides the same rich flavour, but with fewer calories.

“Agave nectar has, in recent years, gained some prominence as a great substitute for sugar because it isn't as high in fructose as sugar, as it is made from plant and has a lower glycaemic index. The glycaemic index is used to measure whether a product increases your blood glucose level over a certain amount. With agave nectar, it doesn't increase it as much as sugar would,” she said.

When consumed in large quantities, sugar can cause a rush as the glucose level in the body rises, which forces the body to now produce insulin to get rid of the amount of sugar. However, with its lower glycaemic index, agave nectar does not cause this sugar rush and its other effects, she explained.

Egg is another ingredient that is considered essential to the fruit cake recipe.

“Eggs, especially the egg yolk, is usually high in cholesterol because it is an animal product. If we reduce the number of eggs that we use, we definitely will reduce or even eliminate the amount of cholesterol that is in the cake. This is why we usually advise persons to reduce the amount of baked product that they have, because of the amount of cholesterol that comes especially from eggs,” Dr Smith said.

For its Christmas fruit cake, Not Jus' A Salad has replaced eggs with flaxseeds. According to the health food brand's team, the flaxseeds will act similar to eggs, but with more fibre and less cholesterol.

Flour has also been replaced with the fibre-packing oats.

“Oats is a grain that is better than actual flour because, as a whole grain, it is high in dietary fibre and [is] gluten-free. Oats also help to lower high cholesterol,” Dr Smith said.

Individuals, especially those who have heart complications, have long been advised to steer clear of butter because more than half of the fat in the product is saturated fat.

“Usually when you think about oils, the more solid the oil is at room temperature is the more saturated the fat is. When you use sunflower, corn, or even olive oil because they are liquid at room temperature, it usually is better for you,” Dr Smith explained.

“Sunflower, especially, is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are good because when you are using fats and oils you want to ensure that you have a low amount of saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat has been associated with increased cardiovascular disease and increased risk of morbidities like stroke. The flavour is also not as strong, so it doesn't change the flavour of the cake,” the nutritionist added.

While it would be almost unconscionable to advise individuals not to consume the very popular Christmas cake, Dr Smith noted that the key to maintaining good cardiovascular health while protecting the waistline is portion control.

“Eat on smaller plates with smaller portions. That will help to reduce the amount you eat and also, eat slowly. Having conversations while eating will help to reduce the amount that you eat. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register that you are eating, so if you eat slower, you will end up eating less food before feeling like you are full,” she said.


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