Healthier Holiday Baking

By Charlyn Fargo

November 8, 2019 5 min read

For the holidays, baking shifts into gear with cookies, pies, candy and cakes. We seem to be surrounded by temptation at every holiday party and event.

While you may not be able to avoid or resist all the creamy desserts, there are ways to make your own baking healthier.

Here are a few tips to help with that goal:

Choose whole grains. Use at least 50% whole-wheat flour in your traditional recipes — or use oatmeal.

Cut down on sugar. You can reduce the amount of sugar in a traditional recipe by one-fourth to one-third, and no one will even notice. Increase the amount of flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla to enhance the sweetness. You can also try using artificial sweeteners like Splenda to add sweetness without using sugar.

Focus on fat. Use fat-free evaporated milk in your pumpkin pies, and try fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese in your cheesecakes. Switch to canola oil instead of vegetable oil to get a boost of healthy omega-3s. Try substituting unsweetened applesauce for oil, and use two egg whites in the place of one egg.

Add nutrients to your baked goods with nuts, dried fruit (for extra fiber) and milled flaxseed. You can use 3 tablespoons of flax as a substitute for 1 tablespoon of oil. You can also use 1 tablespoon of flax and 3 tablespoons of water as a substitute for an egg.

Practice portion control. Cut desserts into smaller portions by slicing a pie into 10 pieces rather than six or eight and cutting brownies, cakes and bars into bite-sized pieces.

Sometimes it helps to simply bake fewer desserts. Fewer options mean fewer temptations.

Q and A

Q: Can extra protein help your bone health?

A: We know that calcium, Vitamin D, magnesium and zinc play a big role in bone health. For older Americans, extra protein may also play a role in reducing hip fractures and improving bone mineral content. A review of four studies of adults 65 and older showed a positive link between higher protein intake and bone mineral content in the neck and hip, as well as a decrease in hip fractures.


Fresh cranberries are one of the pleasures of fall. Grab an extra package of these high-fiber, vitamin C-packed beauties when they arrive in your grocery store. You can use them year-round in these Walnut Cranberry Granola Bars. This recipe is from the California Walnut Commission.


3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup unsweetened or sweetened coconut flakes

1/4 cup dried or fresh cranberries, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

8 large medjool dates, chopped

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F, and line 11-by-7-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Stir together oats, walnuts, coconut, cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon and dates in a large bowl. Add honey, oil and vanilla extract, and stir until combined. Transfer mixture to a food processor, and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and stick together when pressed between your fingers. Transfer to prepared baking dish, and press down very firmly. Bake for 25 minutes and then let cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into 8 equal bars. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 300 calories; 6 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 13 grams fat; 5 grams fiber; 24 grams sugar; 0 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay

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