Q: How can I make our holiday treats healthier?
A: One simple way to make holiday treats healthier is to use the best quality ingredients, starting with sweeteners. We emphasize the use of natural sweeteners — many actually have nutrients that are beneficial to our bodies!
Maple syrup — The dark amber sap from certain maple trees is one of the least processed sweeteners you can choose from. Once the water is evaporated and filtered, this rich syrup is ready to use. There are several important nutrients naturally found in maple syrup including manganese, iron and zinc. Manganese, a less commonly recognized nutrient, is a strong antioxidant that keeps cells protected from free radical damage. Interestingly, it also helps maintain blood sugar levels. Beyond the classic use of maple syrup on pancakes, you can add it to cake recipes, granola or to sweeten your hot chocolate!
Whole cane sugar — Made by dehydrating and granulating the juice of sugar cane, this dark sugar is full of beneficial nutrients including iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. The dark color reflects the natural molasses found in sugar cane and tastes more distinct and less sweet than brown sugar. It can be used in place or in combination with brown sugar in baked goods.
Honey — We get the sweet benefit of bees' hard labor in the thick and sticky goodness of honey! Another minimally processed sugar, honey is rich in phytonutrients, enzymes, and is a natural antibacterial. Honey can have noted flavors depending on the flower source of nectar the bees collect. Honey can have various textures and viscosity depending on whether it is raw or processed. Using processed honey is preferred for baking as the health benefits of raw honey will be lost in the cooking process.
Molasses — This dark and robust-flavored sweetener captures all the goodness left behind when making white sugar, boasting significant amounts of both iron and calcium. Similar to maple syrup, molasses also contains manganese, which is a nutrient that helps maintain blood sugar. It works well in cakes and cookies that use spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or ginger. Try adding it to your pancake batter with some cinnamon, or in small amounts to chili or to teriyaki sauce!
Fruit — With natural sugars that make them sweet and fiber to help slow down the sugar rush, fruits are always a great choice for holiday treats, whether they are eaten by themselves or as a baked dessert. You also can use fruit juice to sweeten desserts as another natural sweetener option.
We often find ourselves overwhelmed with options and grapple between pleasure and guilt during the holidays. The key to health (and sanity) during the holidays is moderation. You can model this for your children by trying small pieces of the sweets you want, stopping when you're done. And if you find yourself eating pumpkin pie for breakfast ONCE a year, well, make it a special occasion and keep it to a once-a-year tradition! Perhaps most important to our health at this time of year is the enjoyment of celebrating with family and friends, nurturing ourselves with quality time spent together and quality food in our bellies.