The holidays are always a special time of year. They remind me most of the importance of giving back and spending time with family. But the holidays are also associated with the overconsumption of sugary, baked goods—which doesn’t have to be entirely unhealthy.
I seem to be addicted to anything sweet, from gingerbread men and candy canes, to chocolate Christmas trees and snowmen sugar cookies. There’s nearly no stopping me when there’s baked goods around the holidays.
Unfortunately, anything sweet usually isn’t the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. These tasty and well-intended treats are all packed with artificial sugars and sweeteners, which can contribute to your holiday stress, anxiety, weight gain, and ongoing sugar addiction. All the sugar will also deplete your immune system and cause inflammation. Do you wonder now why you get colds every holiday season?
As I’ve said, I enjoy a lot of baked goods…but I don’t get sick. When I bake during the holiday, I avoid sugar as much as I can. Many people believe organic sugar or healthy sweeteners can be good replacements; however, that all depends. I still enjoy holiday treats, but I use a few healthy, low-glycemic sweetener and sugar replacements to prevent my sweet tooth from causing illness. Here are my top three go-to sugar and artificial sweetener replacements for holiday baking:
Green stevia leaf powder, or Stevia rebaudiana, is often recommended when people avoid sugar on anti-fungal diets. I find you require very little in your baked products because stevia, with the compounds rebaudioside A and stevioside, tends to taste sweeter than sugar. Unlike sugar, though, stevia leaf powder has no calories, and it can reduce blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
For example, I recall a crossover study from 2004 that found that stevioside (one of the compounds found in stevia) lowers blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. The study observed 12 patients with type 2 diabetes, and they received a meal supplemented with one gram of either cornstarch or stevia. Blood samples were taken 30 minutes before and four hours after the consumption of meals. The study found stevia was the better choice for overall health for those who suffer from diabetes or high blood sugar.
Healthy Tip: Avoid stevia products if they are white; it usually means the product is highly processed.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in fiber from vegetables and fruit. While sugar is known to lead to dental cavities and tooth decay, xylitol will prevent bacteria from forming on the teeth, and is, therefore, a good option for tooth decay protection.
Xylitol is considered a sugar alcohol that will not raise insulin or blood sugar levels, and it can help prevent ear infections. Xylitol may also help prevent osteoporosis, according to a 2011 study, which found that xylitol increased bone density in rats’ femurs.
Healthy Tip: Xylitol should only be used in small amounts; in high doses, it is known to cause digestive issues such as intestinal gas and diarrhea.
Yacon syrup is another low-calorie sweetener, which is derived from the yacon plant. It’s high in fiber and can help treat common holiday health problems, such as constipation and weight gain. I remember a double-blind placebo-controlled study I read not too long ago. The researchers found that yacon syrup and its high amounts of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) helped pre-menopausal obese women lose weight. They also decreased body mass index (BMI) scores. The study used two doses of yacon syrup, which contained 0.14 grams and 0.29 grams of FOS. FOS is also considered a prebiotic that feeds good bacteria in your intestine.
Must read : Four Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season
What Sweeteners Should You Avoid?
It is best to avoid any processed sweetener or sugar, including acesulfame potassium, neotame, cyclamate, aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose. Even if cane sugar is organic and raw, it still negatively impacts your digestive tract and metabolism. Your body also processes brown sugar, evaporated cane sugar, coconut sugar, and agave syrup in similar ways.
Honey may be appropriate in small amounts, but don’t go overboard—it still contains plenty of sugar.
I would also avoid any processed baked good at the grocery store; they contain many unhealthy hidden sugars, such as dextrose, lactose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, and sucrose.
There are a couple other sweetener replacements you may consider: Blackstrap molasses is the only molasses option worth your time. Some even consider it to be a superfood, because it is loaded with B vitamins and important minerals. Also, erthritol is considered another safe sugar alcohol that can be used in small amounts.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Gregersen, S., et al., “Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects,” Metabolism Clinical and Experimental January 2004; 53(1): 73-76, doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2003.07.013.
Sato, H., et al., “The Effects of oral xylitol administration on bone density in rat femur,” Odontology January 2011; 99(1): 28-33, doi: 10.1007/s10266-010-0143-2.
Genta, S., et al., “Yacon syrup: beneficial effects on obesity and insulin resistance in humans,” Clinical Nutrition April 2009; 28(2): 182-187, doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2009.01.013.