Growing up, sweets and treats were always around the kitchen this time of year.
Pecan brittle. Snickerdoodles. Thumbprint cookies. Peppermint chocolate bark.
My sister and I loved getting in the kitchen with my mom to concoct cookie-cutter sugar cookies in the shapes of Santa and Christmas trees, sprinkled with green and red sprinkles.
Cookie exchange parties, gingerbread house making and pumpkin pie baking were annual events on the calendar.
Santa dished out candy canes at the mall, and teachers awarded good behavior and A+ spelling tests with Hershey’s special holiday Hugs & Kisses and bite-sized candy bars.
Even though I am no longer a kid, sugar is everywhere this time of year: holiday parties, the front desk at your hair dresser, waiting room lobbies, office break rooms.
If you find yourself at war with your inner sugar monster, never fear.
Thanks to some creativity with healthier alternatives (i.e. natural sweeteners) in the kitchen…you can have your cake and eat it too. (No need to even use artificial sweeteners!).
Here’s the low down on Natural Alternatives to Sugar
(PLUS 4 Holiday-Inspired Cookies and treats to try your hand at this holiday).
First things first…We have heard it ever since we were kids in the dentist office:
“Sugar is bad for us.”
But we are never really told why is sugar not so great?
Great question! I’m glad you asked.
- Promotes fat storage and weight gain
- Disrupts your hormone balance
- Increases inflammation in the body
- Increases stress in the body (spikes adrenaline and cortisol release)
- Gives you a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash
- Spurs insulin resistance over time (insulin is your body’s transporter for glucose into your cells…when it is unable to function, it leads to elevated blood sugar)
- Confuses your ability to regulate your appetite
- Lowers your immunity (impairs your white blood cells’ function)
- Raises cholesterol levels
- Contains no nutrients, no protein, no healthy fats
- Is addictive (8x more than cocaine)
Ok…ok…you get it, you get it.
Sugar is not your BFF (other than it ‘tastes good’, right?).
If you must indulge though, here are some healthier alternatives:
Fruit. My TOP choice for natural sweeteners…some mashed bananas, applesauce, berries, or occasionally dates (although VERY sweet) can do wonders for added sweetness. It truly is nature’s candy.
Raw Honey. Boasts health benefits when used in moderation, including a natural ‘cough medicine’ (Vitamin C), Iron, Calcium, anti-fungal/bacterial properties, energy boosting composition, insulin regulation/maintains blood sugar levels, antihistamine properties (reduce allergies) wound treatment, skin conditioning, and antioxidant power (in fact, it has as many antioxidants as spinach). Boom.
Maple Syrup. Like honey, maple syrup contains antioxidants—particularly darker, grade B versions of syrup (note: antioxidants are beneficial for reducing free radical damage that cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various diseases, even cancer). It also has a lower glycemic index score—meaning it does not SPIKE your blood sugar levels like regular old sugar or refined carbs. It also promotes smoother digestion (unlike sugar and artificial sweeteners), and contains vitamins and minerals—particularly zinc, manganese (important for carb and fat metabolism, blood sugar regulation and nervous system function), potassium and calcium.
Coconut Sugar. Used in moderation, coconut sugar contains a small amount of fiber and a few nutrients, while also having a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. This does not mean it is a free-for-all though when it comes to consumption. Coconut sugar is also very high in fructose (simple sugar; i.e. a LITTLE bit goes a long way). It is a better alternative than regular sugar, true; but if you are going to indulge, opt for RAW (not refined) versions (Refined coconut sugar is very high in carbohydrates—92%–often even higher than high fructose corn syrup).
Stevia. A highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, which is completely safe (in its natural form). Since it is a natural herb, it is viewed as a more acceptable form of ‘artificial sweeteners’—as opposed to chemically created sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose
(Interested in how stevia translates to other recipes you make? Use this equivalency chart here):
|Sugar amount||Equivalent Stevia powdered extract||Equivalent Stevia liquid concentrate|
|1 cup||1 teaspoon||1 teaspoon|
|1 tablespoon||1/4 teaspoon||6 to 9 drops|
|1 teaspoon||A pinch to 1/16 teaspoon||2 to 4 drops|
On a side note, there are a handful of ‘alternative sweeteners’ that are NOT so great for you. They include:
Artificial Intelligence: Alternative Sweeteners that are NOT Great for You
Agave Syrup: Misleading advertisements boast it as a “natural” sweetener, BUT it is actually HIGHLY processed and is usually 80 percent fructose (simple sugar associated with cancer cells, weight gain and premature aging). The syrup itself actually does not even remotely resemble the original agave plant.
Raw Organic Cane Sugar: The methods that this sweetener is processed may be different than the “regular” sugar, but the chemical makeup is exactly the same.
Your body won’t recognize the difference. It will still have the exact same effects on your body and metabolism.
Molasses. Derived from the “left overs” after sugarcane and sugar beets have been turned into sugar, molasses sounds good in theory but it has about the same effects on your blood sugar as regular sugar with an added dose of some extra nutrients, including: iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper and zinc. Use sparingly.
Truvia: Sounds better than most other sweeteners in theory, but if the manufacturer is any indication as to it’s health, buyer beware (it is a sugar substitute developed by The Coca-Cola Company and Cargill). It contains erythritol—a corn-based additive (yet another sugar alcohol that has been approved for use by the FDA). If it is not marked organic, you can also assume it is GMO-genetically modified.
Sucralose (Splenda): While it IS “sugar free”, it is not side effect free. Sucralose is nothing but a chlorinated artificial sweetener with horrific health effects, including: nausea, headaches, acne/breakouts, abdominal pain, dizziness, chest pain, bloating, rashes, blurred vision and more.
Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal). Fun fact: It was discovered by accident in 1965 when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company, was testing an anti-ulcer drug. It’s got the name: “chemical sugar culprit” written all over it. Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA, including: migraines, dizziness, weight gain, seizures, heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, breathing difficulties, memory loss, hearing loss, joint pain, vision problems and depression.
Brown Sugar: If it’s brown it must be good for you right? Nope. In layman’s terms, brown sugar is regular sugar diluted with a slightly less unhealthy, less concentrated sugar. The small amount of “minerals” in it (thanks to molasses) does NOT make up for the other negative health effects.
And now for the recipes…
Thrive Holiday Treat Round-Up
Thrive Gooey Good Brownies
coconut oil or spray, for greasing the pan
4 bananas (green-tipped)
½ c. sunbutter or raw almond butter
1/2 cup full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 c. coconut butter, melted (optional, but recommended)
- Preheat oven 325 F.
- Grease 8×8 inch baking dish.
- In a food processor, mix bananas, eggs, sun butter, and coconut milk until well combined (about 1 minute).
- Add in the remaining ingredients and process for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Pour mix into the baking dish.
- Bake 25-35 minutes, until the edges are cooked and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out somewhat wet.
- Cool before serving
- Drizzle with coconut butter.
1½ cups blanched almond flour
3 Tbsp. coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ tsp liquid stevia
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, stevia, and salt. Mix well. Add melted coconut oil, and vanilla, and mix until ingredients are combined and dough starts to thicken.
- Scoop out a rounded tablespoon of dough and form a golf-ball shape in hands.
- Roll the cookie ball in the cinnamon and place it on your a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Repeat until all dough is used up, and then use a flat-bottomed cup or spatula to gently flatten each cookie.
- Bake for 8 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden brown.
4 tablespoons of coconut oil
4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of unsweetened vanilla powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
15-20 drops liquid stevia
2 tbsp. full fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons coconut butter
5 drops of food grade peppermint essence.
1/4 cup of chopped nuts of any kind.
- Place a glass or metal mixing bowl on top of a medium sized pot containing simmering water.
- Once the bowl is heated, turn the stove down to low.
- Place all ingredients, except the coconut milk, in the heated bowl. Melt all ingredients.
- Mix together.
- Once all ingredients are melted, add the coconut milk and stir thoroughly.
- Add 5 drops of peppermint essence, and stir thoroughly.
- Turn stove off.
- Line a bread loaf pan with plastic wrap.
- Add a line of parchment paper.
- Pour the melted chocolate into the lined loaf pan.
- Sprinkle chopped nuts and/or shredded coconut on the top of the chocolate.
- Place loaf pan in freezer for at least 20-minutes.
- The bark is the best if you wait over night.
4 egg whites
2 tbsp granulated stevia
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup unsweetened coconut (finely shredded)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Whisk the egg whites with the stevia
- Add the vanilla and the coconut and gently mix.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll a spoonful of macaroon mixture into a small firm ball and place evenly on the baking tray.
- Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.
- Makes 15-20.