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By: The Villages | Dec 22, 2021

Sugar Substitutes for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us! We made it through Thanksgiving, but the gathering of friends and family has only just begun. For many, this is the season for baking cookies, pies, and sweet treats.

If you’re like me, you might already be thinking about your New Year’s resolution of “eating healthier.” We try to face the season with well-meaning intentions. Yet, we may have thoughts like: “Will I succumb to eating Aunt Betsy’s Christmas Yule Log, or the Christmas cookies and gingerbread men?” We even persuade ourselves that we must try it all because we “wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings!”

We tend to attach sentimental feelings to holiday treats: “It’s tradition! I’ll just have one or two….”. However, we are becoming more aware of the damage too much sugar can cause. According to Dr. Axe, co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, the average American eats 17 teaspoons of sugar a day and about 57 pounds of sugar per year. This is only factoring in the sugar that is already found in the foods and beverages that we consume. It does not include the spoonfuls of sugar that we add into these already sugar-laden products.

Sugar is known to be inflammatory (causing pain and disease). It is high in calories and offers no nutritional benefits. Having too much sugar can cause diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and poor cognitive function. Even artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin are now debated as being unhealthy.

The good news is there are healthier alternatives. By changing your everyday habits around sugar and using a natural sweetener, you can begin to reduce your sugar consumption right now while still satisfying your taste!

Natural sweeteners can provide nutrients and therefore boost your health. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that substituting healthy sweeteners, including blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and honey, can actually increase your antioxidant intake and serve as an anti-microbial for the gut, while also offering other benefits.

Fruit is a common substitute because of its naturally occurring sugar. Many substitute the sugar in cake recipes using fruits such as unsweetened applesauce or ripe bananas. Honey, maple syrup and molasses, all contain beneficial components, such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, that the body knows how to process — and needs!

Certain natural sweeteners like banana and date paste provide health benefits according to the US Department of Agriculture. They encourage healthy blood pressure, help reduce cholesterol levels and heart disease risk, to name a few. This is all due their fiber content.

How many calories do sugar substitutes have? Here’s a list of some of the most popular natural sweeteners:

  • Raw Honey: 1 tablespoon = 64 calories
  • Stevia: 0 calories
  • Dates: 1 Medjool date = 66 calories
  • Coconut Sugar: 1 tablespoon = 45 calories
  • Maple Syrup: 1 tablespoon = 52 calories
  • Blackstrap Molasses: 1 tablespoon = 47 calories
  • Balsamic Glaze: 1 tablespoon = 20-40 calories depending on thickness
  • Banana Puree: 1 cup = 200 calories
  • Brown Rice Syrup: 1 tablespoon = 55 calories
  • Real Fruit Jam: varies depending on fruit
  • Monk Fruit: 0 calories

One of the best natural sweeteners is raw honey. Honey is a true superfood packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help neutralize free radicals, while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

Ideally look for “local” honey which is also known to help with allergies. You can find these products at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. The Villages Grown features Local Honey by Riverview Apiaries including Orange Blossom, Wildflower, Tupelo, as well as honey that is infused with turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. Honey is one of the easiest natural sweeteners for replacing sugar.

My favorite dessert is a recipe from a food-as-medicine cookbook where the ingredients are considered “cardiovascular healing” and “anti-aging.” That’s right! A dessert that is good for you — a key lime pie! This recipe calls for coconut oil, limes, avocado, and natural maple syrup as sweetener. The crust calls for nuts, coconut flour, and dates which add sweetness.

When it comes to baking holiday cookies, give monk fruit a try! It comes granulated or fine just like sugar and is ready for baking. Next time you are in the baking aisle of the grocery store, check out some of the other natural alternatives that are becoming more readily available. You just might be surprised. May your holiday be sweet and healthy!

You can find The Villages Grown local produce and plant forward artisanal items at the following retailers in The Villages:

  • The Villages Grown Retail Store (Brownwood Paddock Square), 2666 W Torch Lake Dr.
  • Publix Super Markets
  • Earth Fare, Lady Lake
  • Various Restaurants within The Villages