Sugar cookies, candy canes, hot chocolate … aside from being winter staples, there’s another thing these seasonal favorites have in common—they are loaded with sugar. Just look at the names: two of them literally start with the words sugar and candy.
While it’s perfectly OK to enjoy treats like this in moderation, this time of year isn’t exactly known for keeping us away from that second or third helping. And consuming too many of your favorite sweets can do a number on your waistline, your dental bill, and your New Year’s goals.
But fear not! Where there’s an abundance of sugary holiday desserts, there is also a plethora of sugarless alternatives around the corner waiting to help you avoid the perils of holiday binging.
A Sweet Swap
Sometimes a recipe just needs sugar, but there are plenty of ways to get creative in swapping out traditional refined white sugar for healthier (and equally sweet) alternatives.
Nature’s purest form of sugar is one of the best ways to add a bit of sweetness to your favorite holiday treats and drinks—while also giving you a dose of other health benefits like B vitamins and gut-friendly bacteria. Just keep in mind that honey isn’t the best alternative for baking, as it loses a bit of its nutritional value when heated. For every cup of sugar, replace with ½ to ⅔ cup of honey.
If you’re thinking, maple syrup? The stuff I put on my pancakes? Healthy? Well, highly processed maple syrup is still not the best choice, but Grade B syrup, which is darker in color and higher in nutrients, is a solid replacement for refined white sugar in many recipes. Instead of coating that holiday ham in brown sugar and pineapple, whip up a flavorful mix of maple syrup and herbs instead! For every cup of sugar, replace with ¾ cup of maple syrup.
If you asked your grocer for coconut sugar just a few years ago, he may have looked at you like you had two heads. But nowadays, this alternative can be found most anywhere and has far more vitamins and other benefits than refined sugar. The best part? It measures exactly like the sugar you’re used to, no extra calculations involved. Coconut sugar is an even swap for white sugar.
Lessen the Sugar Load
There are a handful of seasonal treats that could easily be perceived as healthy because of their name. Fruitcake, for instance, has small quantities of fruit, sure, but this fruit is often candied or dried, and with all the added sugar in the batter, it’s definitely not worth it.
And fruitcake isn’t the only holiday treat playing tricks at the dessert table. Other beloved sweets like fudge (yes, even the sugar-free kind) and peppermint hot chocolate pack hidden dangers in their high calorie counts, sodium content, and cavity-inducing grams of sugar. So how can you satisfy your sweet tooth without caving in to a sample of every afterdinner dessert? Try one of these easy swaps for some of the most popular holiday treats.
To be honest, whether it’s spiked or not, eggnog is one of the most deliciously dangerous drinks. It is loaded with sugar and high in fat, thanks to cream and eggs. If you can’t go without, try replacing the cream with almond, soy, or another dairy-free alternative, or opt for hot apple cider sweetened with honey and cinnamon.
It might seem almost unfair to deny yourself this marker of the season, but depending on how it’s made, pumpkin pie can have be more than 400 calories per slice and contain more than 25 grams of sugar. You’re better off with a slice of pumpkin bread (made with a sugar alternative) or even a few gingersnap cookies.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
There’s nothing wrong with a little chocolate—in fact, dark chocolate has a healthy dose of antioxidants and other essential nutrients, when eaten in moderation. So, instead of devouring a tin of Santa’s favorite cookie, try a dark chocolate bark with dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Apple pie and apple cobbler both come with a hefty dose of added sugars, which is what leaves the fruit encased in a deliciously warm syrup. Fortunately, this rich dessert can easily be made without all the extra sweetness because fruit is naturally sweet! Swap out the buttery crumble for a crumble made with oats, honey, and plenty of seasonal spice, baked over apples drizzled lightly with honey or your favorite sugar alternative.
These crunchy, minty, hook-shaped candies are a clear indicator that the holidays have arrived. But they can also send you or your children on an emergency dental visit. Biting into one of these treats is like munching on a spoonful of sugar—not pleasant! And while there are plenty of sugar-free candy canes on the market, you could instead opt for dark chocolate drops flavored with peppermint oil.
It’s all about balance.
If you’re tired of closing out the holiday season feeling groggy, lethargic, and otherwise unhealthy, there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself and all the delicious treats that come around this time of year without sacrificing your well-being.
While poor eating choices are sometimes unavoidable this time of year, this season really can be about balance and finding a happy medium between sugar overload and the occasional bite to satisfy your sweet tooth. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider these swaps this season—your body will be glad you did.