This time of year I receive a lot of questions regarding healthier sweeteners to replace white sugar in holiday baking. While a little white sugar once in a while isn’t the worst thing in the world, when I bake at home I prefer to use more nutrient-rich sweeteners to make every bite count.

Examples include dates, ripe bananas and real maple syrup. (I touch on the health benefits of raw honey below although I don’t bake with it).  I especially love using dates as a sweetener in baked goods because they’re packed with an array of beneficial nutrients including fiber, vitamin A, B vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium.

Ripe bananas are another favorite whole-food sweetener. They add enough sweetness to recipes that any other form of sweetener, such as maple syrup, can be cut in half.

And speaking of maple syrup…. break up with Aunt Jemima for good and opt for the real stuff! Because maple syrup is a natural sweetener it’s naturally better for you than table sugar. It contains beneficial nutrients such as manganese, zinc, calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. Pure maple syrup also contains more than two-dozen antioxidants that can help to quell inflammation in the body.

Raw honey is a lovely option for sweetening tea or as a topping on pancakes. Make sure it’s pure, unfiltered, unpasteurized and local when possible –not the processed stuff that’s been heated, filtered and stripped of the wonderful health benefits of raw honey. Unlike white sugar, which degrades your health, raw honey has myriad health benefits. It can help with weight management, seasonal allergy symptoms, immune system response and sleep. Raw honey has also been shown to reduce coughs just as well as those nasty over-the-counter commercial cough syrups!

Raw honey should never be heated above 95 degrees F, which is why I don’t use it for baking. Most health food stores sell raw honey. If you have trouble sourcing it, check with your local farmers’ market. (I’m lucky enough to purchase raw honey from my sweet bee keeper neighbor!)

I certainly don’t want to sugarcoat the issue; most people consume too much sugar. But the holidays happen. I hope this post helps you to nourish your body even when you’re indulging your sweet tooth.

Until next time, make every bite count!