Healthy Holiday Treats the Whole Family Will Love

The United States is the largest consumer of sweeteners like sugar and high fructose corn syrup in the world, according to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2014 report. As the days grow darker and the holidays approach, it's easy to indulge in "comfort food" and sugary sweets – but that can take a toll on both your dental and overall health. Instead, try some of these easy, practical alternatives as healthy holiday treats.

What Makes Food Healthy?

According to a U.S. News and World Report, a healthy diet is rich in whole grains, lean protein and fruits and vegetables. An occasional treat can be part of that diet, but the best meals are created with little to no processed foods. And when it comes to your dental health, limiting snacks with sugar and opting for low or nonfat foods is best, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site. When you decrease sugar and simple carbohydrates in your diet, you reduce the risk of cavities, as discussed by the ADA.

Rebecca Katz, MS in Health and Nutrition Education and Director of The Healing Kitchens Institute in Bolinas, California, says to choose a vegetable-based diet complete with colorful foods that are rich in important nutrients and high in fiber. Holiday sweets and rich dishes can make it tough to stick to a healthy diet; however, there are many alternatives to traditional holiday dessert recipes.

Bake Nut-Based Cookies

"Nuts are a great source of fiber," says Kim Guess, RD, UC Berkeley Wellness Program dietician. Both Guess and Katz agree for most recipes, you can cut 25 to 50 percent of the sugar and it won't make a difference to the flavor. "Natural sugars in fruit and vegetables we don't need to avoid, but a lot of sugar marketed as healthy, like honey and agave, are still sugars," says Guess. You can add a natural sweetener, like applesauce, to sweeten cookies. And, she says, the fiber content in nuts slows digestion, helping you feel full so you're less likely to overindulge.

Try a Crumble Pie

Butter and white flour, both common ingredients in pie crust, include saturated fat and sugar, and the starch in white flour converts to sugar, says Guess. Instead of a two-crust pie, Guess suggests baking a crumble using nuts and replacing the white flour with nut flour. Katz points out that fruit pies have natural sugars, so you can make a delicious pumpkin pie using spices instead of adding sugar.

Make Your Own Peppermint Treats

Though candy canes might be a traditional treat for your family during the holiday season, Guess recommends substituting these sugary sweets with mint extract to make your own treats from scratch. A dark chocolate cocoa with peppermint or a dark chocolate pudding, using avocado as the emulsifier, with a hint of peppermint is also a great alternative, she says.

Opt for Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate, and with a high level of antioxidants, it's a great stress reducer for what can be a stressful time of year, says Katz. Katz suggests chocolate date nut truffles with dried fruit, like cranberry or orange, as an alternative. Instead of melting the chocolate with milk, add water instead. Dark chocolate bars contain up to 90 percent pure dark chocolate, says Guess, and that means less sugar for your healthy holiday treats.

Offer Veggie-Based Dishes

Many food labels advertise that they're low in fat, but often make up for it by including higher amounts of sugar for flavor, says Guess. Instead of a cheese plate or sauces that can have high amounts of fat, Katz recommends a colorful veggie spread with a hummus or bean dip.

You can satisfy your sweet tooth, but cut down on portions. A well-balanced meal actually decreases sugar cravings, naturally helping to cut down on portion size, both experts say. But taking care of your dental health is just as important. So during the busy holiday season, you can brush on the go with products like Colgate® Wisp® toothbrushes, to help you start the new year on a great note.