6 ways to bake heart-healthy holiday sweets

Baking holiday sweets

Holiday baking is going into full swing. That means lots of butter and sugar, right?

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that it isn’t the butter that will kill you. It’s the sugar.

Despite the attempts of the sugar industry and the producers of sweet drinks and snacks, we know that too much sugar can double your chances of a fatal heart attack.

But what about all those traditional holiday treats? Do we just need to skip them and eat vegetables? Are we gifting our friends and family with a heart attack when we hand over that tin of Christmas or Chanukah cookies?

Luckily, there are healthy and natural substitutes for white sugar that will go down just as sweet, if not sweeter, and even add some health benefits to those treats! Her are six of them…

1. Raw honey

This one actually isn’t for baking or cooking. But it is a great sugar substitute, not only in tea, but in coffee, too! One tip: wait until your drink isn’t red-hot to add raw honey, so it retains some of its great nutritional value.

Raw honey is available from local farmers markets and local beekeepers, if you’re lucky enough to have one (health food stores, too). It’s rich in Vitamins B6, riboflavin and niacin, as well as iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and phosphorous.

Read: 5 Powerful benefits of Manuka honey (slideshow)

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2. Stevia

Used in its native South America to support healthy blood sugar levels, stevia is the ideal sugar substitute. The American Diabetes Association includes stevia on its list of recommended sugar substitutes.

Stevioside, the element in the stevia plant’s leaves that makes it sweet (200 times sweeter than sugar!) is available in drops as well as in a sugar-like form.

It’s less bulky than sugar, so if you use it for baking, just replace some of that bulk with 1/3 to ½ cup of fresh fruit puree or yogurt.

Only use 100 percent pure stevia with no fillers, being especially careful to avoid erythritol.

Read: 4 ways this sweetener beats back metabolic syndrome

3. Dates

Here’s one you’ve probably not thought of using instead of sugar in your baking. Mineral-rich dates are a great way to cut sugar out of those cookies! Dates are high in potassium, magnesium, copper and iron.

Make a date paste by soaking Medjool dates in hot water until they’re soft, and blend them with a spoonful of the liquid until you have something sweet that’s the consistency of peanut butter.

Read: 3 dried fruits that fight cancer, constipation and old age

4. Coconut sugar

The health benefits of coconut water are well known. Now, coconut sugar is just as readily available, and can be directly substituted for sugar in all your recipes. It’s just a little coarser than cane sugar.

Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut that’s been heated and evaporated, leaving coconut sugar.

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5. Blackstrap molasses

This is perhaps the most nutritious sugar substitute of all. Organic blackstrap molasses is rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6. It has a higher antioxidant content than either refined sugar or dates.

Molasses can be an acquired taste, and not everyone enjoys it straight-up on toast or in cereal. But you can make a brown sugar alternative for baking. Use two tablespoons of molasses for each ½ cup of sugar called for (use coconut sugar). Pulse the mixture in a food processor until it’s the consistency of brown sugar.

Read: The sweet multi-vitamin in a tablespoon

6. Monk fruit sweetener

Here’s one that’s only recently become more available.

Monk fruit has been used as a sweetener for centuries in Asia, and is becoming easier to find in grocery stores here in the United States. The fruit itself has been shown to fight inflammation and infection, and to work as a natural antihistamine.

Monk fruit sweetener is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. Look for 100 percent monk fruit. Some brands use erythritol as a filler.

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  1. Phenolic content, antioxidant and antibacterial activity of selected natural sweeteners available on the Polish marketJournal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B
  2. Anti-inflammatory activities of mogrosides from Momordica grosvenori in murine macrophages and a murine ear edema modelJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
  3. Effect of Lo Han Kuo (Siraitia grosvenori Swingle) on nasal rubbing and scratching behavior in ICR miceBiological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.