Caramel corn, coffee cake, Christmas sugar cookies, fruitcake, eggnog, pralines, chocolate fudge, pecan pie, candied sweet potatoes, and the list goes on! The holiday season can be filled with a myriad of sweets, desserts, and sweetened entrees that are calorie dense and may lead to holiday weight gain.

However, holiday sweets do not have to be a potential diet-buster this season. Here are a few tips to help you lighten up your desserts and help avoid a sugar rush this year.

Five Tips on Making Holiday Sweets Healthier and Fewer:

1. Make your intentions known to family, friends and co-workers that you are staying healthy this year and would prefer not to receive sweets as gifts this year. This is a perfectly reasonable request and most people will appreciate your honesty. You can even offer support by making healthier recipes as gifts and supplying the recipe to go with it.

2. Stay on track with your healthy snacking during the holidays to avoid the temptation of eating readily available sweets when hunger strikes. Some healthy filling snacks include: Cocoa dusted almonds, 2% cheese and high fiber crackers, fruit and natural peanut butter or soy nut butter, and fat-free plain Greek yogurt mixed with Ranch seasoning packet and eaten with celery sticks, sliced red bell pepper and sliced cucumbers.

3. Lighten up some of the desserts you make for potluck parties, family gatherings, and gifts for other people. You can lighten up the amount of fat you put in a recipe to reduce calories or change the type of fat used to cut back on artery clogging saturated fat. You can even use whole grain or whole-wheat products and ground flaxseeds to make the dessert heart healthy. Below are some conversions you can use to modify your own recipes:

  • Use low-fat or fat-free evaporated milk instead of whole evaporated milk.
  • Use a light margarine like Smart Balance Light instead of regular butter in a recipe.
  • Use oils such as canola instead of butter when baking. Avoid using oil to make cooking, cakes or pastries because they can tend to turn out greasy and dense. If you decide to use oils instead of butter, use 3 parts oil for every 4 parts butter. For example: a recipe calls for 1 cup of melted butter, use ¾ cup of canola oil instead for less saturated fat.
  • Use whole-wheat flour instead of enriched all-purpose flour.
  • Add ground flax seeds to banana bread, pumpkin bread, or any other quick bread or muffin recipe to add extra omega-3/fatty acids.

4. Use lower calorie recipes when making sweets and traditional desserts. Good web sites to use include:,, and

5. Instead of using regular sugar in your favorite desserts, use alternative sweeteners like the ones below:

  • Splenda Sugar Blend and Brown Sugar Blend are half sugar or brown sugar, half Splenda. This is used for baking and can cut half the calories from sugar. Replace half of the sugar in a recipe with this product. For example: a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use ½ cup of Splenda Sugar Blend or Brown Sugar Blend.
  • Swerve is a zero calorie sweetener you can use just like regular sugar in baking recipes. You will cut all of the calories from sugar if you use this product. Use in equal parts to sugar. So, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use 1 cup of Swerve.
  • Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener that comes under different product names: Truvia and SweetLeaf. Truvia is a blend of the Stevia plant and sugar alcohol. Truvia's web site offers a conversion chart: ¾ teaspoon (tsp) Truvia = 2 tsp sugar. Adjust recipes accordingly.
  • Whey Low is a product that has 5 calories per1 tsp as opposed to sugar's 15 calories per 1 tsp. Use Whey Low in equal amounts to sugar as the recipe calls for. The only caveat is that when baking, reduce oven temperature by 10° F, and use the shortest cooking/baking time called for in the recipe. The company also makes Whey Low Type D and Whey Low maple syrup. Whey Low Type D requires the same reduction in temperature but may require longer baking time.
  • Agave nectar actually has more calories than sugar: 20 calories per tsp as opposed to sugar's 15 calories per tsp. However, agave nectar is much sweeter than sugar, so you need to use much less to provide the same amount of sweetness, so total calories decrease. Approximately ¼ cup of agave nectar provides the same sweetness as 1 cup of sugar. Agave nectar is useful in beverages and can be substituted for cane syrup, maple syrup, inverted sugar, or molasses in any recipe.

The best tip of all when it comes to sweets is to consume your favorite sweets in moderation and to avoid binge eating and excess calories from over consumption. Gradually decreasing your total daily intake of foods and beverages sweetened with added sugar and using as little artificial sweeteners as possible, can help decrease your cravings for sweets. Keep in mind that you can still enjoy your holiday season with moderation and without denying yourself every tasty treat you come in contact with. That being said, exercise becomes even more important during the holidays to help burn off potential excess calories consumed.

These recommendations on alternative sweeteners are safe for adults and children, but pregnant women should use caution when consuming any alternative sweetener. Those who feel they are addicted to sugar should seek help from a Registered Dietitian.

If you would like more information on how to lighten up your holiday sweets, contact Rebecca M. Lee, RD, LDN for appointment information.

Rebecca M. Lee, RD, LDN, is the East Jefferson General Hospital Wellness Center's Sports & Lifestyle Nutritionist. Lee specializes in adult weight management, chronic disease prevention and sports nutrition. To schedule an appointment with Lee, call: (504) 849-6801, (504) 849-6868 or e-mail: