Nutrition

Healthy Holiday Desserts Your Family Will Love

Last updated: Nov 30, 2015


The holidays are filled with traditional foods, with a special place for desserts. Enjoy the holiday atmosphere you love with healthier versions of favorite desserts with these six simple, easy, and delicious tips:

  • Use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour in cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, and pie crust. White whole wheat flour has a lighter color and milder flavor than whole wheat flour while containing the same nutritional qualities that make whole grains healthy. Just like whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour includes the nutrient-packed bran, germ and endosperm of the wheat kernel, which makes it a good source of fiber.1 Whole grains are also great sources of B vitamins for a healthy immune system, producing red blood cells, and preventing neural tube defects in the developing baby during pregnancy.2 No one will notice that you’re using a healthier, higher fiber, less processed flour in favorite holiday desserts.
  • Add fresh fruit skewers drizzled with dark chocolate to your holiday dessert table. Fresh fruit is a powerhouse of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that promote health and reduce risk of chronic disease. Plus fruit is naturally low in sodium and fat, and contains no cholesterol.3 The flavonoids present in chocolate also play a role in preventing heart disease. Dark chocolate contains more than twice the amount of flavonoids as milk chocolate, and more than three times the amount of flavonoids as red wine.4 Build fruit kabobs with strawberries and chunks of pineapple, kiwi, orange and cantaloupe then drizzle with melted dark chocolate.
  • Downsize desserts by making smaller cookies, individual mini-tarts or cheesecakes, and mini-muffins. Portion sizes of foods started getting larger in the 1970’s in fast food chains, and now we’re used to cookies the size of our hand and muffins larger than baseballs.  Even new editions of classic cookbooks like the Joy of Cooking now state that the same recipe makes a smaller number of cookies – meaning the size of each cookie is bigger.5 Buck the ‘big is better’ trend and challenge yourself to make smaller desserts such as mini pecan or pumpkin tartlets instead of pecan or pumpkin pie.
  • Make small adjustments to your favorite pie recipes. Make a one-crust pie instead of two crusts. A piece of pie with only a bottom crust will have 120 fewer calories than a piece of pie with two crusts. Reduce the sugar by one-quarter and pump up the flavor with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or lemon zest.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free ingredients to reduce calories and saturated fat, the type of fat that increases risk of heart disease.
    • instead of cream, use fat-free half & half or evaporated skim milk
    • instead of cream cheese, use low-fat cream cheese, pureed low-fat cottage cheese, or plain fat-free Greek yogurt
    • instead of sour cream, use plain fat-free Greek yogurt.6
  • Replace half of the chocolate chips in cookies and holiday breads with chopped nuts to reduce sugar content. Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, minerals and antioxidants that help reduce heart disease, blood pressure, and some types of cancer.7 While all types of nuts fit into a healthy diet, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids that are especially protective.

References:

  1. Oldways Whole Grains Council. Whole White Wheat FAQ. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-white-wheat-faq accessed 11-18-15
  2. USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov Nutrients and Health Benefits. Why Is It Important to Eat Whole Grains? http://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains-nutrients-health updated 6-12-15. Accessed 11-18-15.
  3. USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov Focus on Fruit. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/focus-on-fruits last updated 9-21-15. Accessed 11-19-15
  4. Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: Implications for cardiovascular health. FM Steinberg, MM Bearden, CL Keen. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103:215-223.
  5. The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic. LR Young and M Nestle. Am J Public Health. 2002 February; 92(2): 246–249
  6. Mayo Clinic. Nutrition and Lifestyle. Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Healthy Recipes:  A Guide to Ingredient Substitutions. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/healthy-recipes/art-20047195  2-15-14. Accessed 11-22-15
  7. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Emilio Ros. Nutrients. 2010 Jul; 2(7): 652–682.
  8. American Institute for Cancer Research. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer:  Walnuts. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/walnuts.html 9-23-13. Accessed 11-22-15.

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