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Sweeteners for your healthier holidays

Fruit puree as healthy sweetener

Let’s face it: from Halloween candies to Thanksgiving pies to Christmas shortbread and chocolate bark, the holiday season can be tough on the waistline. Even if you’re participating in that cookie exchange or baking fruitcake for the family, there are healthier options that can keep your sugar levels—and jean size–within normal bounds this year.

Best Low Glycemic Sweeteners

Any grocery store today offers a huge selection of low glycemic sweeteners.  But which to buy? As far as I’m concerned, we should knock out anything artificial, anything chemical, or anything with “–itol” at the end of its name. (Sorry, fans of xylitol, maltitol and sorbitol—I just don’t buy them. I know that many people swear by these sweeteners, but they’re also known to cause digestive distress, bloating and gas even in small quantities. Just not my bag.).

If I could grow it myself or make it myself in my kitchen, I definitely consider the sweetener a “yes.”

Here are some of my favorite (and best tasting) choices:

Fruit! Too often, we forget that fruit is already naturally sweet. Purée of bananas, pears, dates or other fruits make perfect additions to your desserts and help to bind baked goods, too.

Coconut Sugar or Coconut Palm Sugar.  This traditional sweetener (used for centuries in the Caribbean) is relatively new to the North American market.  Slightly less sweet than regular sugar, this dry, granular and light brown sweetener offers up a flavor reminiscent of butterscotch or caramel.  It can be used one-for-one instead of sugar; and with a GI (glycemic index score) of just 35, is hands down my number one choice for healthy sugar alternative.

Coconut Nectar. Derived from the coconut palm tree like its dry counterpart, coconut nectar is a thick, sticky syrup that can be used instead of honey, corn syrup or agave.  Its golden color and butterscotch flavor lend it to holiday desserts, too.

Stevia. Nature’s near-perfect sweetener, pure stevia not only contains zero calories and a zero GI score, but it’s also been shown to help prevent dental caries (ie cavities) and won’t affect blood sugar levels at all.  The only drawback to the up-to-300-times-sweeter-than-sugar liquid or powder is that you can’t substitute one for one instead of sugar.  Great in beverages or whipped toppings, though.

Agave nectar. This staple of vegan diets is low on the glycemic index and provides a lovely, light sweetness that won’t overpower the flavors in baked goods.  Recently, however, agave has been under scrutiny for its high fructose levels and compared to HFCS.  While some types of agave can be safe in moderation, you might want to use it sparingly this holiday season.

What About. . . .

Maple Syrup. Hands down, a favorite worldwide. The distinctive flavor and lovely aroma of pure maple syrup can’t be beat, and it offers some calcium and iron, too. But maple syrup’s GI is almost as high as white sugar’s. Use sparingly and for special occasions.

Sucanat.  While nutritionally better than sugar, Sucanat (which stands for SUgar CAne NATural) is still cane sugar (as is “evaporated cane juice”). That means its sugars are converted very quickly to glucose in the blood, causing a spike in blood sugar levels.  Best to avoid these as well.

It makes sense that we all want to enjoy some sweet indulgence during the holiday season. But I think we deserve to have our cake and some nutritional value, too—but without risking our health in the process.

Some healthier treats:


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Lauren Stewart
By: Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart is a freelancer writer from Michigan. She enjoys writing about beauty, health and fitness! She is passionate about learning new ways to take control of her health and wellness and is a makeup and skincare junkie! You can contact her by emailing