Healthy Holiday Desserts

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Since Jack was 10 weeks old I’ve been attending a great mommy & baby fitness class once a week. In the warmer months we did a stroller fit in the park, and now the class has moved indoors to a dance studio. Both classes include an hour workout and songs & rhymes for the kids after, and the indoor class also includes a guest speaker at the end. The instructor asks naturopaths, sleep consultants and nutritionists to come in and speak to the moms. I’ve done it twice now, and it’s a great way to share my knowledge with other moms who are in the same situation. The other day I shared some healthy holiday dessert ideas.

At this time of year sweets & baking are everywhere: nanaimo bars, gingerbread, chocolate, shortbread…and it can be difficult to avoid. This is a problem because tradtional desserts are typically high in refined white sugar, which is not good for us.

We hear that “sugar is bad for us” all the time, but do we really know why?

1. No Nutritional Value
Some forms of sugar actually have health benefits, which I’ll get into later in the post, but refined sugar has been stripped of all its nutrients. There’s nothing good in there for us.

2. Excess Sugar Turns into Fat
When we eat sugar our pancreas secretes insulin, which works to stabilize our blood sugar or put the sugar to good use as energy. This process works fine when we eat a little bit of sugar, but when we eat too much sugar, our body can’t keep up with the excess and it gets stored as fat.

3. Can Cause Type 2 Diabetes
This scenario can also lead to “insulin resistance,” which means our body just stops to reacting to what insulin is trying to do. This situation – when insulin doesn’t work anymore – is a precursor for Type 2 diabetes. The good news is that you can reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes by cutting refined sugar & carbs out of your diet, and eating healthy.

4. It’s Addictive
You’ve probably heard the term “sugar high.” Similar to a drug, when we eat sugar it releases “feel good” hormones in our brain, and we start to crave it to get that feeling again and again.

5. Low Energy & Moody
The problem is: it doesn’t last very long, and once the sugar high wears off we crash, and feel low energy and moody. The solution? We reach for more sugar to get a burst of energy & feel better, but than we crash again – it’s a vicious cycle. 

With all this being said, I still love dessert, but I don’t like what it does to my body. The good news is that there are ways to make dessert healthy. It’s all about finding healthy substitutions for the traditional ingredients that make regular desserts unhealthy. Substitutions for: refined sugar, white flour, and bad fats.

Healthy Sweeteners

These healthy alternatives to white sugar are all natural, and actually have health benefits.

Coconut Palm Sugar
It looks like brown sugar and you can substitute it in place of white sugar cup for cup in any recipe. The best part is that it’s safe for diabetics because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar. This means your body doesn’t over-produce insulin, and store the excess as fat or create the insulin resistance situation. Coconut sugar is available at Costco or Bulk Barn.

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Dates
Naturally sweet, but also high in fiber, which is what makes them a healthy sweetener. The presence of fiber slows the release of sugar into the blood stream so you avoid the spike in blood sugar, and secretion of insulin. You can chop them up and add them to cookies or muffins or you can simmer them with water, puree them and make a date syrup or caramel that you can than use in your baking.

Bananas
They are a source of fiber, and a great source of potassium. They easily mash up and make for a great all-natural sweetener, and serve as a binding agent so you often don’t have to use eggs.

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Real Maple Syrup
Lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners (avoid blood sugar spike), and is a great source of B vitamins, calcium & magnesium.

Honey and Agave Syrup
A bit higher on the glycemic index, but both are all-natural and a source of antioxidants. Unpasteurized honey contains anti-fungal and antibacterial properties so you can use it to heal bug bites or even get rid of pimples.

Root Vegetables & Squash
Sweet potato, butternut squash, and beets can all be used in desserts for natural sweetness, fiber and nutrients.

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Common Myth: brown sugar is not better for you than white sugar. It’s just white sugar with molasses in it to make it brown. If has the same negative health effects. 

Healthy Substitutes for White Flour

Another unhealthy ingredient in traditional desserts is white flour. It behaves the same way as white sugar; it spikes your blood sugar, causes the release of insulin, and when you eat too much, it turns into fat. Like white sugar, it’s been stripped of all its nutrients – whole grain flours are a good source of fiber, vitamins & minerals.

A few good options include:

  • Oats or Oat Flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Spelt Flour
  • Wheat Germ

There are also some amazing gluten-free options to use in place of white flour:

  • Quinoa: cooked or flakes
  • Coconut Flour
  • Almond Meal (ground almonds)
  • Flaxseed
  • Chickpeas & black beans (beans have a neutral flavor so you can make them savory or sweet)

Healthy Fats

Traditional desserts typically use a lot of butter, shortening and vegetable oils. Healthy substitutions include:

Coconut oil
I use it in place of butter all the time. It has a great coconut flavor, which works well in desserts. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid, which means it gets absorbed directly into the liver, and the body uses it as energy right away so it doesn’t stick around like other saturated fats.

Avocado
Is great in desserts! It has a neutral flavor so it can be savory or sweet. Check out my chocolate pudding recipe with avocado as the main ingredient!

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Natural nut butters
Peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower butter make for great healthy fats in muffins or cookies.

Cinnamon
A great addition to healthy desserts because it stabilizes blood sugar levels so you avoid the “sugar high” and over-release of insulin.

Here are a couple healthy dessert recipes that make for great holiday gifts, and the best part is telling people they’re good for you!

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Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1-cup natural almond butter
2 tbsp. real maple syrup
2 cups oats
½ tsp. sea salt
½ cup dark chocolate chips

Method

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a small glass bowl, mash bananas, and stir in almond butter. Microwave for 30 seconds to melt the mixture, and bring out the banana flavour. Stir in maple syrup.

In a large bowl, combine oats and sea salt. Add banana mixture to oats, and stir to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and spoon out cookie dough (about 2 tbsp. per cookie). Bake for 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet. Store in the freezer.

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Photo credit

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Ingredients
¾ cup coconut oil, melted
2/3-cup honey
¾ cup cocoa powder
½ cup all-natural peanut butter
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. sea salt

Possible additions:
Raw cacao nibs
Pumpkin seeds
Unsweetened shredded coconut
Hemp seeds
Walnuts
Slivered almonds

Method

Melt the coconut oil in a large Pyrex measuring cup. Once melted, whisk in honey, cocoa powder, peanut butter, vanilla and sea salt.

Pour the mixture into a parchment lined loaf pan and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours or until completely set. Cut into squares, and store in the fridge or freezer.

Adapted from sweettreatsmore.com

Happy healthy baking!

About Lauren

Welcome! I’m Lauren Follett.

A couple years ago, while working in the corporate world of downtown Toronto, I decided to pursue my passion for healthy living and enrolled in the Distance Education program with The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I studied on my lunch breaks, after work, on the weekends, and while travelling through South America.

The world of health & nutrition can be confusing. There are a lot of mixed messages out there when it comes to health: low fat, low calories, sugar-free, low-carb, gluten-free…leaving you confused, frustrated, and wondering where to start. That’s where I come in.

As a Registered Nutritionist, my goal is to help you accomplish your health & wellness goals. I don’t believe in diets or quick fixes. I believe in living a healthy lifestyle, which requires you to get educated, and learn how to make healthy choices.

I’m dedicated to working closely with my clients to teach & motivate them to make healthy choices, discuss healthy living strategies and create customized nutrition programs that fit with their life.

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