Healthy Holiday Desserts


By Lauren Follett, BA, RHN, Registered Nutritionist

At this time of year, desserts and sweets are everywhere: gingerbread, chocolate, shortbread, Nanaimo bars; they can be difficult to avoid or resist. These traditional desserts are typically high in refined sugar, white flour and bad fats, which aren’t good for our health. Fortunately for dessert lovers … ahem … there are ways to make treats healthier. It’s all about finding wholesome substitutions.

Healthy sweeteners

These alternatives to white sugar have some health benefits.

Coconut Palm Sugar is from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm tree. It looks like brown sugar and can be used in place of regular white sugar in any recipe.

Dates are naturally sweet, but also high in fiber. They can be chopped and added to cookies or muffins, or simmered with water to make date syrup or a healthy “caramel.”

Bananas are naturally sweet and a great source of fiber and potassium.They serve as a binding agent to keep cookies and muffins together.

Real Maple Syrup is one of my favourite sweeteners because it’s a product that’s produced locally. It’s also a great source of B vitamins, calcium and magnesium.

Honey and Agave Syrup are sources of antioxidants. Honey also contains antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Sweet potato, butternut squash, and beets can be used in desserts for natural sweetness, fiber and nutrients.
Myth: Many people think brown sugar is better for you than white sugar, but brown sugar is actually white sugar with added molasses.

Healthy substitutes for white flour

Like white sugar, white flour has been stripped of all its nutrients and behaves the same way in the body; it spikes your blood sugar, causes the release of insulin, and when you eat too much, it turns into fat.

Healthier choices are whole grain flours, which provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. A few good options include:

Oats or Oat Flour
Whole Wheat Flour
Spelt Flour
Wheat Germ

There are also gluten-free options to use in place of white flour:

Quinoa: cooked or flakes
Coconut Flour
Almond Meal (ground almonds)
Chickpeas (beans have a neutral flavor so you can make them savory or sweet!)
Black Beans

Healthy fats

Traditional desserts typically include butter, shortening or vegetable oils. These are healthy substitutions:

Coconut oil can be used in place of butter, and the coconut flavour works well in dessert recipes.

Avocado is a healthy fat that can be made into a smooth, creamy chocolate pudding when paired with dates, maple syrup and cocoa powder.

Natural nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower butter can be used in cookie and muffin recipes in place of butter or shortening.
Tip: Cinnamon is often used in sweet recipes because it slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream.

If you’re planning to do holiday baking this year, try my healthy recipe for Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. If you’re allergic to nuts, you can substitute sunflower butter for the almond butter and if you’re celiac make sure to buy gluten-free oats.

Almond butter chocolate chip cookies


2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup  natural almond butter
2 tbsp real maple syrup
2 cups oats
1⁄2 tsp sea salt
1⁄2 cup dark chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small glass bowl,mash bananas,and stir in almond butter. Microwave for 30 seconds to melt the mixture, and bring out the banana flavour.Stir in maple syrup.

In a large bowl, combine oats and sea salt. Add banana mixture to oats, and stir to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and spoon out cookie dough (about two tablespoons per cookie). Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet. Serve warm or store in the freezer.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge is an all-time favorite in my house, and it makes for a great holiday gift.The best part is telling people it’s good for them!

Chocolate peanut butter fudge


3⁄4 cup coconut oil, melted
2⁄3 cup melted honey
3⁄4 cup cocoa powder
1⁄2 cup all-natural peanut butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp sea salt

Possible additions

Raw cacao nibs
Pumpkin seeds
Unsweetened shredded coconut Hemp seeds
Slivered almonds


Melt the coconut oil in a large glass measuring cup. Once it’s melted, whisk in honey, cocoa powder, peanut butter, vanilla and sea salt.

Pour the mixture into a parchment lined loaf pan and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours or until completely set. Cut into squares, and store in the fridge or freezer.

Adapted from

If you have questions or are interested in Lauren’s nutrition consulting services, see or email ■