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A registered dietitian reveals the ingredient swaps that will keep your favorite Christmas cookies from ruining your weight loss goals

How to eat your sugar cookies without the guilt

baked sugar cookies for the holidays
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‘Tis the season to be jolly. However, the holidays can be challenging for people mentally and physically, especially people trying to maintain weight loss (or continue a journey).

The holidays can be a tricky time when trying to maintain one’s weight,” said Vanessa Rissetto, RD, a registered dietitian and the CEO of Culina Health. “First, there is an emotional component. Families and gathering with them can be triggering for some people and can cause emotional eating. Also, the lack of family, partners, and children can also take a mental toll.

Then, there’s the relentless social calendar.

“[The holidays bring] the endless cookie swaps, lunches, dinners, and cocktails that seem to be happening daily,” Rissetto said.

Still, the idea of skipping out on Christmas cookies because of weight can feel sad. Do healthy dessert recipes exist? Experts share that the answer is yes and that ingredient swaps like sugar substitutes can make your favorite holiday cookies healthier. Nutrition pros dished on the sweet details.

holiday cookies in a bowl
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The best ingredient swaps to make a healthy cookie this holiday season

Baking holiday cookies is a time-honored tradition, and the treats genuinely offer something for every sweet tooth: Crispy sugar cookies with holiday-themed icing, chocolate-peppermint treats, and the secret Christmas cookie recipe you wait to enjoy every year. Skipping the holiday cookies in the name of healthy eating may leave you saying, “Bah humbug.” However, simple ingredient swaps can allow you to have your cookie and keep weight off.

“Swapping healthier ingredients reduces calories, which is beneficial for those who are losing weight,” said Catherine Gervacio, BHSc, RND, a registered nutritionist-dietitian and certified exercise nutrition coach. “Most healthier swaps are the high-fiber options, which can help increase the feeling of fullness, which potentially decreases the chances of overindulging, especially in refined foods.”

From under-the-radar butter substitutes to swaps for chocolate goodies, these are experts’ top tips for developing a healthy cookie recipe this holiday season.

Butter substitutes

Butter adds richness, texture, and fat to a cookie. Experts share ways to get a similar taste and texture with an improved nutrient profile.

Avocado can be used to substitute for butter – still giving the same texture but more fiber and protein,” Rissetto said.

Another butter substitute may also be in your fridge: Applesauce.

“Applesauce has a lower saturated fat content and does not contain cholesterol,” Gervacio said. “Also, its natural sweetness can add flavor to a recipe.”

Flour substitutes

Traditionally, most people use white flour when baking Christmas cookies. However, white flour is a refined carb with little fiber.

“You can use whole grain/whole wheat flour in place of regular white flour at a 1-to-1 ratio without any major adjustments to taste or texture, all the while adding more fiber and protein to the disk,” Rissetto said.

Are you feeling more adventurous?

Black beans can be used instead of flour – adding extra fiber to your dessert,” Rissetto said.

Cream and egg swaps

Cream and eggs can increase the calories and cholesterol in Christmas cookies.

One pro suggests opting for Greek Yogurt over cream.

“The combination of Greek yogurt and water reduces it to make it a bit more of a creamy consistency,” said Blanca Garcia, RDN, a nutrition specialist with Healthcanal. “It includes higher amounts of protein and good nutrients which can help with blood sugar control and possibly reduced fat content.”

Garcia suggested using 3/4 cup of plain, full-fat Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup of water in a Christmas cookie recipe that calls for one cup of cream.

Chia seeds can serve as a surprising egg substitute.

“You need to put the chia seeds in white vinegar as chia seeds need liquid to work, but this is a great vegan substitute and again adds a fair amount of fiber to the dessert, making it less likely to spike your blood sugar,” Rissetto said.

Chocolate swaps

Rissetto said baking with Cacao Nibs instead of chocolate gems or chips can lower the sugar content. People can also opt for dark chocolate over milk chocolate.

“Swapping out milk chocolate can significantly reduce sugar in a baked good,” Garcia said.

This swap isn’t a straight one, though.

“Dark chocolate gives off a slightly bitter taste, which can work to balance out the sweetness of treats,” Gervacio said. “Also, dark chocolates have a less smooth texture.”

Just have the cookie as is

You can also opt out of healthy cookie recipes and have the tried-and-true treats you wait for 11 months of the year.

Sometimes, there just aren’t substitutes for a good-old traditional cookie, and that is OK,” Garcia said. “Not everything has to always be perfectly healthy. Having the cookie can be just what you need.”

Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels

Other tips for a healthier holiday season

Holiday cookie ingredient swaps are one way to indulge while practicing healthy eating, but experts shared some others.

Eat mindfully

Gervacio said mindful eating involves tuning into your body and hunger cues. She explains that the practice reduces the risk of eating more than you want or need.

Mindful eating also encourages enjoying holiday foods but with portion control and awareness of what healthier options are better to eat,” Gervacio said. “ One good practice of mindful eating is to stop when 80% full. Also, have 3-4 hour intervals in between meals.”

Try veggies

Vegetables are an underrated part of holiday meals and appetizers.

Don’t forget to have a hefty amount of dishes that include a variety of fall or winter-type vegetables like squashes, which can greatly help balance meals,” Garcia said. “Vegetables can be steamed, grilled, made into soups, or just classic salads with creative toppings.”

Protect your mental health

“Peace” isn’t just a buzzword for holiday cards.

“I always remind clients, first, to make sure that they are also seeing a mental health professional at this time because it can help navigate the murky waters,” Rissetto said.

From there, prioritize what matters.

Next, we go through their calendars week by week and decide what events are a must-go and which ones are a nice-to-have and then strategize around that,” Rissetto said. “When we take it one step at a time, people find that it’s less taxing on them mentally, and they can keep in alignment with their goals.”

This alignment can include weight loss goals.

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