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Healthy Holiday Desserts


Seasons ~ Nibble on This

Healthy Holiday Desserts

by Carolyn Burris

MS, Nutrition Counselor at

Forum Health Knoxville

Holidays are so much fun! Thanksgiving and Christmas are a time to celebrate with our family and friends. Warm greetings, gift sharing, enjoying fellowship with loved ones, and eating traditional holiday meals are a part of this season for so many. However, there is one unwelcome guest that comes around this time of year – weight gain! So how do we enjoy this festive time without sacrificing our healthy lifestyle? One way is to create healthier desserts!

Start by setting reasonable goals for healthy desserts. Avoid processed pre-made pies, cookies, pastries, cakes, candy, and ice cream. Processed foods are made with high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified (GMO) ingredients, unhealthy fats and oils. Homemade recipes can be high in sugar and unhealthy fats, too. Here are some tips for choosing healthier holiday desserts:

Cut the Sweeteners

Start by cutting the sweeteners by at least 1/3 of what the recipe calls for. Try enhancing sweetness with cinnamon, if appropriate (ex: pumpkin or fruit pies, breads, or cookies). Studies have shown that cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Use Healthier Sweeteners

If you use sweeteners with a higher glycemic load (how the food effects your blood sugar), then try using healthier alternatives such as:

  • Raw honey
  • Agave
  • Real maple syrup
  • Organic sugar

Healthier Sugar Alternatives

If you need an alternative due to sugar sensitivity issues, try these sweeteners:

  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol
  • Palm and coconut sugar (both have a very low glycemic indexes with good flavor)
  • Lo Han (also called Monk fruit)
  • Stevia
  • I do not recommend the artificial sweeteners aspartame and sucralose due to the detrimental effects on your health.

Note: You will need to check the sugar equivalency with each of these sweeteners, as it can vary for each sugar substitute.

Use More Whole Grain
or Low Carb Alternatives

Use non-GMO organic whole grains and flours such as:

  • Oat flour, flakes or bran
  • Buckwheat, quinoa, rice, amaranth,
    corn flours/flakes, etc.
  • Spelt or wheat
  • Low carb almond or coconut flour

The benefit of adding whole grains and nut flours to your recipe include better blood sugar control and more fiber.

Use Healthy Fats

What are healthy fats? Healthy fats are omega-3 fats and healthy monounsaturated fats. Stay away from margarine and processed fats, especially trans fat. Using fats in their natural state is best.

Good choices would include:

  • Organic Coconut or Palm oil
  • Organic grass fed butter/ghee
  • Organic olive oil
  • High oleic cold-pressed organic safflower/sunflower oil

When baking with coconut oil instead of butter, it is a 1:1 substitution. In general, use 7/8th of the amount of liquid oil in a recipe calling for a solid fat. If you use sunflower or safflower oil, pick a high oleic cold pressed type which bakes better in high heat and lowers the omega-6 significantly.

These changes in your dessert recipes may change the flavor or texture, but over time, you will appreciate the healthier effects. Here is a recipe for pumpkin bread that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and made with healthier fats.


Pumpkin Nut Bread

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 60 minutes

Servings: 12



  • 1 cup almond flour (or almond meal)
  • ¼ cup coconut flour
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • ¼ cup oat flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup walnuts, in pieces
  • ½ cup liquid fat (melted coconut or palm, melted organic butter or high oleic organic sunflower/safflower oil)
  • 2 large omega-3 eggs
  • 1 cup organic pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup water (or coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup Stevia in the Raw
  • 1/3 cup erythritol


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Add all dry ingredients to bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Add wet ingredients and mix together well.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Pour mixture into greased bread pan and bake for 60 minutes. Remove and let cool for 30 minutes.
This Nutrition Update
is brought to you by Forum Health Knoxville. For more information about the Forum Health Knoxville’s approach to wellness, call 865-675-9355.

Carolyn Burris, an east Tennessee native, earned her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Community and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her passion for helping those with nutritional needs brought her to Forum Health Knoxville. Carolyn particularly loves encouraging those struggling with food intolerance, obesity, fibromyalgia, and fatigue.


» Get Your Plate in Shape!

» Healthy Holiday Desserts!

» Pumpkins: More Than Just Fall Decorations

» Gluten-Free Can Be Healthy and Tasty!

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