It’s the holiday season, which means everyone is looking forward to family time, presents, and good food, especially festive desserts and sweets. While these special holiday treats are fun to make and even more fun to eat, they aren’t usually the best dietary choice.
We discussed holiday desserts with Ashley Krautkramer, an experienced clinical dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist, and board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management.
Unhealthy Festive Treats
When friends and family gather together for the holidays to share a good meal, decadent desserts are a given. Unfortunately, these indulgences can negatively impact our overall health, particularly for those of us with chronic health conditions.
“Fudge, iced sugar cookies, and brownies all have high sugar content,” said Krautkramer. “That should be a concern for everyone — but especially for those who have diabetes or other complicating health factors.”
According to Krautkramer, desserts aren’t the only sweet treats people should avoid this time of year.
“Festive milkshakes and other sugary beverages are packed with sugar,” she revealed. “One 16 oz peppermint mocha frappuccino contains a jaw-dropping 63 grams of sugar and 10 grams of saturated fat.”
To put this in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a limit of about 50 grams of sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet. A single peppermint mocha frappuccino exceeds this limit in one fell swoop.
Luckily, you can get your peppermint coffee fix without wrecking your diet.
“Order a plain latte with skim, almond, or soy milk instead to lower both calories and fat,” suggested Krautkramer. “Then, ask for one pump of peppermint and another of mocha. You’ll get the same flavor profile without worrying about excessive sugar, fat, or calories!”
Easy Sugar & Fat Substitutions
Simple substitutions like this aren’t limited to your favorite sugary beverages. You can use similar approaches to most of your favorite holiday desserts!
“Try substituting zero calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit for sugar in your favorite recipes,” said Krautkramer. “Not only will this lower the sugar content of these sweet treats, it will also lower the calories and carbohydrates. It’s a win-win!”
You can also reduce the fat content of a recipe using substitutions.
“Many people cut down on fat content by substituting half of the butter, oil, or other fat with fruit or vegetable purées. Applesauce, bananas, and puréed pumpkin are great substitutes for fats in lots of recipes,” explained Krautkramer.
Healthy Recipes You Can Try
If you’re not keen on making substitutions to your favorite recipes, you can always find new, healthier recipes to try out instead. Don’t have time to do the research yourself? You’re in luck — we found some of the best healthy dessert recipes for you!
Making classic gingerbread men and gingerbread houses is a beloved holiday tradition for many. This healthy gingerbread cookie recipe is a great recreation of the original calling for just a small amount of coconut oil, and eliminating refined flour and sugar in favor of whole wheat flour and stevia. Coming in at just 52 calories, it’s a sweet treat you’ll love without feeling guilty!
“Regular fudge is packed with sugar! A single one-inch square has 15 grams of sugar, and we all know no one stops at just one,” said Krautkramer.
But fear not, because this healthy fudge recipe is the perfect alternative that also happens to be vegan. It ditches the high sugar and fat content of traditional fudge by using stevia, bananas, and coconut butter. For an extra nutritional boost, it also suggests adding chia seeds!
Christmas isn’t official until you’ve rolled out the cookie dough and cut it into your favorite holiday shapes. As the name suggests, traditional sugar cookies have a fair amount of sugar in them, so we suggest using this healthy sugar cookie recipe instead. Not only does it cut out sugar in favor of stevia, it also calls for white whole wheat flour instead of the refined flour you may be more familiar with. It’s a great, guilt-free alternative that still allows you to make some unforgettable memories decorating cookies with your loved ones.
A natural crowd pleaser for just about any occasion, cheesecake is a holiday dessert you don’t want to miss! It’s usually loaded with sugar and fat from cream cheese, sour cream or heavy cream. Not to worry, we found a great healthy alternative for this classic treat too! This healthy cheesecake recipe cuts out some fat by substituting yogurt for the sour cream or heavy cream. It’s also low in sugar, calling for only two-thirds of a cup for the entire cake.
Peanut Butter Balls
Peanut butter balls are another traditional Christmas favorite, especially here in the Midwest. They also happen to be packed with sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Healthier alternatives exist, like this awesome peanut butter balls recipe. This version is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, sweetened with dates, and still manages to taste like the original. Requiring only 5 simple ingredients, they’re incredibly easy to make, too.
Practice Mindful Eating
Alternative recipes make it easy to enjoy your favorite holiday desserts without compromising on your health and nutrition goals. But sometimes, substituting ingredients in your own recipes or using other healthy recipes just doesn’t cut it. They aren’t the same as you remembered, or you long for the familiar flavors of a dessert passed down through generations.
“Even though eating healthy should be a priority for everyone, you shouldn’t be afraid to enjoy your favorite foods around the holidays,” expressed Krautkramer. “Food isn’t just fuel. It’s part of our memories, family celebrations, and cultural traditions. The key is limiting yourself to one at a time, being purposeful about your choices, and remembering to incorporate the protein- and vitamin-rich foods, too.”
How much do you really know about the ingredients in your favorite holiday foods? Take our quiz to find out.