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Sometimes, when enjoying time with loved ones is the priority around the holidays, healthy habits can fall to the back burner. Although we believe everything — including treats and desserts — can be enjoyed in moderation, there are a few simple tips that can help yield more nutrient-dense dishes. 


Add to Your Dishes 

When starting to look at your diet from an “improving nutrition” standpoint, it’s easy to get caught up in cutting out so-called “unhealthy” foods. Instead, remember that nutrients are the things in food that help our bodies grow and thrive. For those special days when more decadence is called for, Oldways Vice President of Nutrition Kelly LeBlanc’s advice is to keep some sugar and to also think about adding nutrition to the dessert.  

By this, she suggests adding fruit, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, or even vegetables–ingredients that make up the foundation of heritage diets.  

Make the Swap 

Sometimes, the craving for a rich slice of cake hits, and sometimes, our bodies want something with higher nutritional value. Especially around the holidays, both are completely normal! If you’re in the latter boat, one of the easiest ways to add nutrition to any recipe is to substitute the original ingredients for more nutrient-dense ones. If you’re looking to make the swap(s), here are a few starting points to consider: 

Chocolate Plum Walnut Torte

Swap your all-purpose flour for whole grain or nut alternatives 

Whole wheat flour, almond flour and oat flour are full of good nutrients that can’t necessarily be found in all-purpose flour. Whole wheat can often be substituted 1:1 with just a tiny bit of extra liquid, but you should add an extra ⅓ cup of flour when exchanging oat flour for all-purpose.  

Add moisture with alternatives to butter 

In a lot of cases, the primary reason to add butter to your dessert is to increase the moisture. But there is no reason to turn all of your creations into dry, crumbly messes by removing butter in the name of “healthy eating.” Instead, try using olive oil, apple sauce, pumpkin puree or Greek yogurt. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use ¾ cup of olive oil, 1 cup of applesauce, ⅔ cup of pumpkin puree, or 1 cup of Greek yogurt. 

Lean on natural sweetness 

Another option for healthier desserts is to simply reduce the amount of sugar used in homemade dessert recipes. Sometimes, sugar is important for the texture of the dessert, but when the main or only role is to add sweetness to a dish, try experimenting with cutting a little bit out and seeing how it changes the flavor. Sometimes, less is more! 

One of our favorite ways to cut refined sugar out of desserts is to choose a dessert with fruit or dried fruit! Dried figs are a great example—they make the holidays sparkle. During a season of feasting, they impart delicate sweetness, chewy texture, and add nutrition into your festivities. They were used to sweeten desserts before sugar became popular. The Cleveland Clinic recommends adding ¼ cup of dried figs into a heart-healthy diet. One serving of 3 to 5 dried figs contribute 18% of the daily value of dietary fiber and 6% of the daily value of potassium. Some ideas: dark chocolate dipped figs rolled in crushed nuts, cranberry fig quickbread where pureed figs stand in for some fat, chopped figs stirred into whole wheat trail mix bread, or as a mix-in for just sweet enough chocolate granola.

Recipe Inspiration 

Need more ideas? Look no further. Here’s a delicious Pumpkin Pie recipe! Or, try a yule log, or Bûche De Noël, with coconut cream instead of heavy whipping cream, 70%+ dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, a nutrient-dense whole grain flour instead of all-purpose flour, and fresh fruit garnishes. Most recipes you find can be easily modified with nutrient-rich alternatives, but it’s also helpful to do some research beforehand about what can and can not be substituted for your specific recipe.  

Best Pumpkin Pie Ever

Here are some of our favorite holiday desserts: 

Find even more dessert ideas in the Oldways recipe library. 

We hope you enjoy whatever holiday dessert you make, and we hope your body enjoys all the added nutrients you choose to include! 

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