With the end of the year approaching rapidly, only one thing stands in your way until New Year’s: Christmas. All those high-calorie and sugary desserts can really test your will and throw a kink in your healthy eating plan, especially when all these tasty desserts surround you at family gatherings. However, there are healthier options to these traditional desserts and substitutions you can make to keep your favorite desserts on the table, without the guilt. Here are a few of my favorite substitutions and desserts for the holidays:

Use Agave/Stevia as a replacement for sugar

Personally, I advocate for stevia over agave, but both sugar substitutes have less calories than table sugar. Stevia is much sweeter than traditional table sugar, which means you can use less of it in your dessert recipes and still have your cookies and cakes taste the same as they did with regular sugar. According to All About Agave, agave nectar is also much sweeter than sugar, meaning you can use less agave than you would sugar and get the same taste; however, it does have more calories than sugar. Agave is also diabetic-friendly due to a lower glycemic index.

Use dark chocolate instead of milk/white chocolate

Dark chocolate, the bitter cousin to tasty milk chocolate and white chocolate, surprisingly has many different health benefits. According to Authority Nutrition, quality dark chocolate is loaded with fiber, antioxidants and iron, making it much more nutritious and beneficial to your health than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate can also reduce the risk of heart problems by improving blood flow, which helps to lower blood pressure. I suggest getting a bar of high quality dark chocolate and breaking it into chunks to make your own chocolate chips for dark chocolate chip cookies. The store-bought dark chocolate chips rarely have as many nutritional benefits as the higher-cacao quality bars of dark chocolate.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

These are the best cookies in the world so long that they’re made right. If you’re looking for a sweet treat with recognizable ingredients, this is your safest bet. The most important aspect of the recipe is the ratio of oats to flour. Too much of either ruins the cookie. You can also substitute whole wheat or gluten free flour for the white flour to make these cookies even healthier, as whole wheat flour has more dietary fiber. I also recommend sprinkling a little confectioner’s sugar on top for presentation. A sprinkle of cinnamon also adds flavor to these cookies, but be warned: too much cinnamon (anything over about 2-3 teaspoons) makes the cookies taste like a cinnamon challenge. I learned this lesson the hard way after thinking that one cup of cinnamon would be a good substitute for one cup of brown sugar. News flash: It’s not.

Fondue with fruit.

Here’s an easy way to get some fruit into your diet during Christmas. Fondue with fruit is an easy-to-make substitution to, say, tiramisu or another dessert that is high in sugar, saturated fats and calories. Just heat up some dark chocolate or cheese fondue (I recommend using gruyere cheese) from the store, toss some strawberries, grapes, apples and whatever other fruits you feel go well with fondue, and voilà. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can make your own fondue by melting dark chocolate or cheese over the stovetop.

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--Sophomore | Vine Editor -- Nursing : Irish Studies

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