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Baking cookies can be one of the many joys during the holiday season and is often an important tradition among family and friends. With so many holiday treats it can be difficult to maintain healthy eating habits and prevent weight gain. Luckily, following the tips below can help you bake healthier versions of your holiday cookie favorites without sacrificing taste!

Before we dive into tips, remember that portion size is key here. You can still have a cookie, but try to stick to one (or two if small) at a time and eat it slowly to savor each bite! And as a bonus tip, if you choose to have a cookie skip the calorie containing beverage and decrease portion sizes of the main entrée while filling half your plate with vegetables to better balance calories.

Add fiber with whole grains:  Incorporating whole grain flour adds a healthy dose of fiber and added nutrition’s. Experiment by substituting ¼ to ½ of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour, 100% whole wheat flour or oat flour (you can even ground whole oats to a flour consistency). The King Arthur brand also produces a white whole wheat flour variety that still has all the nutrients included in the whole wheat flour with a milder, less “whole-grainy” taste. You can also experiment with nutrient-dense, non-grain containing flours like coconut flour or almond flour. These do require different ratios of wet to dry ingredients so seek recipes that specifically use these flours for best results.

Choose heart-healthy fats: Most baked goods are baked with butter, margarine or shortening which contains a large amount of saturated fat, a type of fat linked to heart disease. You can easily replace up to half of these high saturated fat ingredients with heart-healthy unsaturated fats from olive or canola oil. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 stick of butter (containing 8 Tbsp. butter total), you can use 4 Tbsp. butter and 4 Tbsp. olive oil.  Choosing recipes involving nut-butter is also a great way to incorporate heart-healthy fats.

Additionally, you can try slightly reducing the amount of butter or oil asked for in a recipe in most recipes without sacrificing taste and texture. I find that using ¾ of the fat called for in recipes (like using 6 Tbsp. butter/oil mixture instead of 8 Tbsp.) results in an equally tasty cookie while lowering calories and fat.  You can even try substituting ¼ to ½ of the butter or oil with pureed fruits or vegetables like applesauce, pumpkin, mashed banana or even baby-food prunes in chocolate-containing recipes. It is important to note that using pureed fruits or vegetables does create a softer, cakier texture which works best in oatmeal cookies, soft ginger or molasses cookies, pumpkin cookies or whenever a cakier texture is desired.

Sweeten Wisely:  Sugar adds important taste and texture to cookies however most recipes use more than enough. Simply cutting out ¼ of the sugar called for in recipes can result in a plenty-sweet cookie with reduced sugar content. You can also use alternative all-natural sweeteners such as honey or pure maple syrup which tablespoon per tablespoon are sweeter than refined sugar. If using honey or maple syrup, use ¾ cup per every 1 cup sugar called for in a recipe. You may have to reduce the liquid portion of the recipe by 2 or more Tablespoons when using this substitution for best results. It is important to remember that even these “all natural” sweeteners still contribute sugar intake and should be used sparingly.

You can also try reducing the sugar content of your cookies by using natural low-sugar, low-calorie or no calorie sugar substitutes such as stevia, xylitol or erythritol. There are several brand-name sugar substitute products such as Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, Swerve (one of my favorites using erythritol) and many more. I would recommend replacing up to half of the sugar called for in a recipe with a natural sugar replacement substitute, following directions on the package for conversion equivalents. For example, 1 tsp. of pure powdered or liquid stevia is equivalent to 1 full cup sugar!

 Add spices or zest for flavor:  The holidays are known for reminiscent spices such as cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger. When reducing sugar and fats in recipes you can add back flavor by using favorite spices. You can experiment with different spices and flavors, like adding cinnamon and ground ginger to a cookie recipe for extra spice. Ground spices are concentrated so begin with 1 tsp. and adjust to taste preference. You can also add citrus zest, like orange or lemon, to cookies. One of my favorite additions to oatmeal raisin cookies is a hint of orange zest in the batter…give it a try and you might find a new favorite as well!

Almond Butter Snickerdoodles

Adapted from www.cookinglight.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown sugar (can sub ½ with natural sugar substitute)
  • 1/3 cup reduced fat cream cheese
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp. smooth almond butter
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon, divided
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Wisk brown sugar through egg yolks in medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, mix flours, baking soda, salt and 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and gently mix until combined.
  3. Mix remaining 1 tsp. of cinnamon with granulated sugar. Drop tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheet, flatten a bit with your fingers or spatula and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.
  4. Bake at a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

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