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  • Jill Maher

Avoiding the Holiday Sugar Bombs & Healthy Christmas Pumpkin Bars

For more information and help staying on track over the holidays, contact me today! I will help you stick to your goals and avoid digging a deeper hole during this tricky time of year. I work in-person, by phone, or by skype/facetime with my clients.

This is a difficult week for most of my clients (and myself)! We are surrounded with sugar-laden foods at every turn.

​As a former sugar addict, I can easily slip back into really bad habits if I don't have a plan of attack - especially during this time of year.

According to the USDA, the average American consumes between 150 - 170 lbs of sugar per year! That's INSANE, and in my opinion, likely the reason behind the enormous obesity epidemic and the numerous accompanying diseases.

Sugar causes inflammation in the body, which is linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, mood disorders (such as depression), headaches, behavioral problems, reduced immune function (bacteria feeds on sugar), tooth decay, arthritis and joint pain, lethargy, disrupted sleep, etc., etc!

Sugar is found everywhere, including:

  • Cereals - cereal is one of the worst offenders. If you are going to eat cereal, make sure it is made from 100% organic ingredients. Sprouted grains are best, as they are digested better. Also, look for cereals that are very low in added sugars.

  • Beverages - soda is obviously filled with sugar, and a whole bunch of other chemicals. The recommended daily intake for added sugar is NO MORE THAN 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men and 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women. A 12-oz can of soda contains 12 teaspoons (48 grams). Other common sugar-laden beverages include fruit juices, sports drinks, and flavored waters.

  • Condiments - Ketchup, for instance, has 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar for each tablespoon serving size. Not to mention the "sugar" is actually high fructose corn syrup, which I could write another entire article about! Most people aren't dipping their french fries in just 1 Tbsp of ketchup, either! More like 4-5 times that! Be careful!

Read labels!! Even if a product is labeled "whole grain," "all-natural," "healthy," etc., there are very few labeling laws enforcing these claims. You must be your own advocate and educate yourself. Also, read the ingredients on labels. If you don't know what the ingredient is, google it - it'll probably knock your socks off! That ingredient might also be found in your household cleaning products!

Bottom line: Make sure you read the ingredients, and opt for the lowest sugar-containing foods with the fewest ingredients.

Here are three tricks that I use to stay on track and avoid sugar:

1. Healthy Alternative Treats:

If you avoid sugar for a couple of weeks (sometimes even less), you'll find that your palate really does change. Naturally sweet foods, like bananas and other fruits, suddenly taste AMAZING!

I am a huge fan of still enjoying your food and "indulging" in treats you love, while still fueling your body with nutritious foods that make you feel good!

Check out my Pinterest board and blog posts for healthy recipe ideas!

2. Stevia Sweetener:

Stevia is definitely an acquired taste, but it comes from a plant and does not impact your blood sugar (like refined sugar, honey, syrups, etc.). It's also not an artificial sweetener containing chemicals, like many of the other products found in sugar-free foods. I prefer liquid stevia, which can be added to coffee, yogurt, etc.

Over the holidays, I have used the powdered stevia or stevia blends in baking. It seems to mix and bake better sometimes.

3. When You Indulge, Stay Mindful:

My mom makes her mom's homemade peanut butter blossoms every Christmas. I am going to eat them! But, we use organic, trans fat-free, sugar-free peanut butter, raw coconut sugar (which isn't as refined - but still affects blood sugar), and organic sprouted flour.

When I have these, I make a point of putting the cookie on a plate with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoying every bite - instead of mindlessly scarfing down cookie after cookie feeling guilty about blowing my diet.

I also love pumpkin pie this time of year! I shared my recipe below. If you make bars instead of pie, they are easier to slice and serve smaller portions. These pumpkin bars are full of cinnamon and other spices that reduce inflammation. Also, pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and is full of fiber. We could all use a little extra fiber this time of year :)

If you're not sure what you should be doing to stay on track, contact me today, and I can help!

Healthy Holiday Recipe:

Clean Pumpkin Pie Bars:

Yield 28 Bars

I used organic sprouted spelt flour and coconut flour for the crust. Spelt flour contains gluten so it can be used in place of wheat flour in baking. The gluten in spelt flour is water soluble, which makes it easier to digest for those with wheat sensitivities. The sprouting of any grain makes it a "living food" and changes the composition of the grain - making it more nutritious and digestible.



  1. 1 cup organic sprouted spelt flour

  2. 3/4 cup organic coconut flour

  3. 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil or butter

  4. 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

  5. 3 organic stevia packets

  6. 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

  7. 1/4 - 1/3 cup of water

  8. 1 egg

Pie Filling:

  1. 6 organic eggs

  2. 30 oz of organic pumpkin puree

  3. 1 cup of unsweetened almond, cashew or coconut milk

  4. 3/4 cup of organic coconut sugar

  5. 1 dropper-full of toffee flavored stevia (be sure to taste first - some people don't like the taste!)

  6. 3 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice

  7. 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

  8. pinch of salt

  9. 1 teaspoon of orange zest

  10. 1 cup of raw cacao nibs or Enjoy brand non-GMO/soy free mini chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  2. Line 10 x 15 baking dish with parchment paper and spray thoroughly with cooking spray.

  3. In a food processor, pulse the dry crust ingredients until combined. Add the egg and coconut oil or butter and pulse several rounds until the double starts to clump. Next slowly add between 1/4 - 1/3 cup of water until the dough begins to forms a ball.

  4. Press the dough into the parchment-lined baking dish and bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes

  5. Mix the first 9 ingredients of the pie filling in the food processor until creamy.

  6. Stir in the cacao nibs/chocolate chips and pour the mixture over the crust.

  7. Smooth the filling evenly over the crust with a spatula.

  8. Bake for 35 minutes and check to see if the center of the pie is done by inserting a knife and see if it comes out clean. If not, bake until this happens.

  9. Allow to cool and then cover and refrigerate.

  10. I sliced the bars into small, bite-sized pieces (approximately 2"-3" squares) – 28 Bars


Per Bar: calories 124; 5.4 g fat ; 14.7 g carbohydrates; 4.2g fiber; 4.3 g protein

Exchanges: 1 grain/starch; 1 fat

* For lower carb and fat bars, make a crustless version:

Per Bar: calories 101; 4 g fat ; 13 g carbohydrates; 1.75 g fiber; 3.3 g protein

If you're not sure what you should be doing to stay on track during this time of year, contact me today, and I can help!

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