No Sugar Santa – I want a Sugar-Free Christmas

How can you enjoy Christmas and all its wonderful feasts and treats, without loads of sugar? Patrick Holford shows you what to eat and drink to be merry without gaining weight and getting back into bad habits.


Christmas dinner itself is a very healthy meal, with lots of vegetables and lean turkey. It’s the ‘extras’ from mince pies, Christmas pudding, cranberry sauce, mulled wine and chocolate delights. Here’s how to make your own, equally delicious but all low GL. Have fun making these with friends and family.


This delicious pudding is proof that you don’t have to deprive yourself over Christmas. The fruit lends it a natural sweetness and a gloriously gooey texture. It is wheat and sugar free, and can be easily adapted for those with a dairy or gluten intolerance.


450g/16oz dried mixed fruit (go for organic and check that there is no added sugar)

80g/3oz breadcrumbs (use rye bread if you cannot eat wheat, or millet, brown rice or quinoa flakes if you are gluten intolerant – available from health food stores)

80g/3oz ground almonds

40g/1.5oz chopped nuts (pecans, almonds and hazelnuts work well)

80g/3oz butter (or dairy free alternative) (for those watching their waist lines, use only 40g/1.5oz butter plus a mashed banana)

1 medium Bramley apple, chopped finely

2 eggs

Juice of one orange (or 3 tbsp brandy if you are feeling decadent)

1 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Makes 1 x 1 3/4 pint pudding; serves 8

Mix together the dried fruit, nuts and breadcrumbs (or flakes), and rub in butter. Add the chopped apple and fruit juice. Beat eggs well and stir into the mixture with the spices. Add any lucky coins (well wrapped in greaseproof paper – not aluminium foil – to prevent metal poisoning).

Place in a buttered 1 3/4 pint pudding basin and make a cover with 3 layers of greaseproof paper. Steam for 4 hours and a further hour when you are ready to eat it. Serve with natural yoghurt or cream.


This delicious cranberry sauce tastes more interesting, but a bit less sweet than the usual store bought product. It is easy to make and will store in the fridge for days.


2 bags of fresh cranberries (they are usually 12 ounce bags)

½ cup of orange juice

½ cup of applesauce (no sugar added) or a cup of finely chopped apples

Juice and zest of one orange

½ cup of water

3 tbsp of xylitol

Put cranberries, orange juice, applesauce and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Keep on medium heat, stirring continuously for up to 15 minutes until the cranberries start to explode. Reduce to a simmer and pour the juice and zest over the cranberry mixture. Simmer 10-15 minutes and remove from heat.

Cool completely and store in fridge at least 4 hours but preferably overnight before serving.


This delicious mulled wine is sweetened naturally with a little cider and the juice of an orange. If not sweet enough just add some xylitol.


2 bottles of fruity red wine

150ml apple cider

1 cinnamon stick

Juice of one orange

The peel of one unwaxed lemon

5 whole cloves, stuck in an unwaxed orange

A pinch of nutmeg

5 cardamom pods (optional)

I tbsp of xylitol (optional)

Simmer all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the wine rest for an additional 10 minutes before straining and serving.


Is this the ultimate decadence? You can pretend it is if you like, but in reality this after-dinner sweet is health food by any other name – the nuts are high in protein and minerals, and dark chocolate is low in sugar and rich in magnesium. Lovely as an occasional treat.

You can double this recipe and store the remainder in the fridge for up to 10 days.

Ingredients – Serves 2

15g (around 1/2oz) good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces

25g (1oz) shelled mixed nuts (eg almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts or cashews)

1 Line a baking tray with non-stick paper.

2 Gently melt the chocolate. To do this, half fill a saucepan with water and let simmer. Place the chocolate in a small metal or heat-proof bowl that fits the rim of the saucepan but does not touch the water, and allow it to melt over the heat, stirring occasionally.

3 Tip the nuts into the melted chocolate and stir to coat. Place nuts on the baking tray, making sure they are not touching – otherwise they will stick together when they harden.

4 When all the nuts are done, place the tray in the fridge to let the chocolate harden completely.

GLs per serving: 4

Cook’s notes

Serving suggestion (per person). Serve a small handful each

Allergy suitability gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast free (make sure you choose dairy free chocolate if necessary)


These luscious, almondy truffles wouldn’t be out of place served at a dinner party or smartly packaged and given as presents (note, though, that they must stay chilled).

Marzipan lends itself well to low-GL sweets, as the nuts and eggs provide protein with minimal carbohydrate.

Will keep chilled in the fridge for up to 24 hours/Makes 8 truffles


125g (just under 5oz) ground almonds

4 drops almond extract

75g (3oz) xylitol

4 organic, free range egg yolks

1 heaped tbsp finely chopped almonds

1 Mix the ground almonds, almond extract, xylitol and egg yolks together until they form a smooth paste.

2 Shape into walnut-sized balls and roll each ball in a saucer of the finely chopped almonds until the outside is coated in nuts.

Place on a plate and store in the fridge till firm.

GLs per serving: 5

Cook’s notes

Serving suggestion (per person): serve 4 per person

Allergy suitability gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast free

Health note: Because this recipe contains raw egg, always choose organic or at the very least free-range eggs to reduce the likelihood of salmonella contamination, and do not serve to pregnant women, young children, the elderly or infirm.


This is another healthy but delicious alternative to after-dinner mints. Very quick and easy to make, these petit fours also provide a powerful nutrient punch, as apricots are rich in the antioxidant pro vitamin beta-carotene, needed for a strong immune system and healthy skin, while almonds are rich in protein, as well as the bone-friendly minerals calcium and magnesium.

Makes 15


50g (2oz) good quality chocolate

15 ready-to-eat dried apricots

15 almonds

1 Line a baking tray or large plate with baking paper. Gently melt the chocolate over a bain-marie

2 (see page 153, step 1) or in the microwave.

3 Meanwhile, make a slit down one side of each apricot and push your finger in to create a pocket. Insert an almond inside each apricot, then dip one half of the apricot – the open half where the almond was inserted – in the melted chocolate to seal the pocket.

4 Place on the baking tray and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour until the chocolate hashardened. Store in an airtight tin in a cool, dry place.

Cook’s Notes

Gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free • V • Can be made in advance