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How to Survive the Holiday Desserts? Healthy Carbohydrates!

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The holidays are such a wonderful time of year, full of celebrations, parties, and family gatherings. They can also be full of indulgent treats. You don’t have to forego your healthy eating during this time of year. Choosing more nutrient dense food options, as well as, adapting recipes to include healthier ingredients, can help you satisfy the sweet tooth, while preventing chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Healthier, natural carbohydrates can replace simple and refined sugars to provide additional protein, fiber and flavor! Below are some changes you can make to your favorite treats to boost their nutritional value and improve your health this holiday season.

Switch to Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as whole-wheat flour and oats can replace white flour in many dessert recipes, including cakes, cookies and even pie crust. Switching to whole-wheat pastry flour can provide additional fiber and protein without adding extra bulk to the dish. Fiber, also found naturally in oats, is a critical nutrient for our digestive system and heart, as well colon cancer and diabetes prevention.1

Add Beans or Legumes

When you make your next brownie, pudding or fudge, try adding beans to the ingredient list. Bean puree can be used to replace some of the flour or fat in a dessert recipe, while adding extra protein. Beans and legumes contain a number of cancer preventative nutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber.2 Adding beans, such as black beans or garbanzo beans, to dessert recipes increases the nutritional value, but it will also decrease the calorie content. Excess calorie intake can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is linked to eleven different types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial cancers.3 The flavor of beans are fairly mild, so they can mix into many treats without affecting the taste.

Substitute with Fruits and Vegetables

Just like beans, adding fruits and vegetables to dessert recipes can help decrease the calorie content, while increasing the nutritional benefit. Using applesauce or mashed bananas in place of oil when baking a cake, or adding shredded zucchini and carrots to cookies or breads are simple and delicious ways to enhance your desserts and baked goods. Fruits and vegetables contain numerous different antioxidants and phytochemicals, all beneficial for cancer prevention and overall health.

Try Natural Sweeteners

Avoiding refined sugars does not have to mean saying goodbye to desserts. Switching your white sugar for natural sweeteners, such as dates, honey and pure maple syrup, can give your desserts richness that refined sugar cannot. Dates are a wonderful way to add sweetness to truffles, candies and cookies, while providing fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium.4 Pure maple syrup is also full of vitamins and minerals, and recent research has shown it may even help with inflammation, which is a key factor in heart disease.5-6 Honey is another natural sweetener that is full of nutritional benefits. It has long been used for its antibacterial properties, but it also contains cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals.7-8 The best part about natural sweeteners? They are found in nature, so there are no added chemicals or refinement processes. Natural sweeteners do have the same calorie content as white sugar, so make sure you don’t overdo it!

Putting it into Practice

Adding nutrient dense ingredients to your desserts can be simple yet packed with nutritional benefit. This Cranberry Date Chocolate Granola Bites recipe is a great example of a healthy yet tasty dessert. The recipe features fiber-rich whole grain oats, along with dates and honey for natural sweetness.  These leftover bites can be made in advance and stored in the freezer for up to a month!

Cranberry Date Chocolate Granola Bites


  • 1 ¼ cups quick or rolled oats
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ cup coconut flakes or unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 Tbsp. mini dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs
  • 2 Tbsp. pitted and chopped Medjool dates
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. almond butter
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil or unsalted butter
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon


  1. In a bowl, combine oats, cranberries, walnuts, coconut, chocolate chips, chopped dates and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized pot, combine honey, almond butter, coconut oil, salt and cinnamon. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is hot. Pour the dry ingredients, turn off the heat and stir thoroughly to combine everything. You may need to add 1-2 tablespoons of water if the mixture looks dry. Set aside to cool to room temperature, for 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. Form the mixture into balls the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Press each ball together firmly to help hold the shape. Store in the refrigerator.

Excerpted from The Meals to Heal Cookbook by Susan Bratton and Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN. Copyright © 2016. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Finding ways to adapt recipes can make a significant difference on the nutritional content of some of our favorite desserts. Switching to whole-wheat flour, adding beans, fruits or vegetables, and using natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar can help reduce your cancer risk, without sacrificing the taste. This holiday season, use these tips above, as well practice moderation on extra-indulgent treats, without wreaking havoc on your health. Happy Holidays!


  1. Get the Facts on Fiber. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  2. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer: Dry Beans and Peas (Legumes). American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  3. Obesity and Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  4. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28: Dates, medjool. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  5. Maple Syrup Healthy Native Foods. United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  6. Sébastien Cardinal, Jabrane Azelmat, Daniel Grenier, Normand Voyer. Anti-inflammatory properties of quebecol and its derivatives. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 2016; 26 (2): 440
  7. Medicinal Uses of Honey: What Research Shows. WebMD. Accessed November 17, 2017.
  8. Subramanian AP, John AA, Vellayappan MV, Balaji A, Jaganathan SK, Mandal M. and Supriyanto E. Honey and its Phytochemicals: Plausible Agents in Combating Colon Cancer through its Diversified Actions. Journal of Food Biochemistry. 2016; 40: 613–629.

Savor Health is a trusted cancer nutrition expert that patients, caregivers and healthcare enterprises rely on for safe, effective and evidence-based nutrition information and programs. Savor Health is working to put an end to the one third of cancer deaths due to severe malnutrition by providing cancer patients and survivors with individualized disease-specific nutrition solutions through nutritional counseling, menu planning, customized recipes and a 150 recipe cookbook – Meals to Heal.

To learn more about Savor Health please visit

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