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Secret ingredients for healthy holiday treats

Baking cookies and cakes and preparing delectable meals for your family and friends during the holiday season is a longstanding part of many cultures and traditions. Now you can take some of your favorite recipes and improve their overall nutritional value without jeopardizing their deliciousness by learning how to substitute or add the following secret ingredients.

Cocoa Powder

Healthy holiday ingredients

1Almond flour (blanched, ground without skins)

Blanched almond flour can be used in place of white (refined) flour on an equal basis. Unlike white flour, almond flour is low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, high in protein and 92.8% of its fats are mono- and polyunsaturated. It’s naturally low-glycemic, gluten-free and high in antioxidants – it won’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels as white flour does. Almond flour not only improves the nutritional value of any baked good, but also adds delicious flavor. It can be used alone or combined with 100 percent stone-ground whole wheat, sweet white sorghum, coconut or oat flour.

Try these gluten-free almond flour recipes >>

2Vital wheat gluten

Vital wheat gluten is naturally high in protein and is made from the endosperm of the wheat berry. It helps retain the gas and steam from baking, and provides more volume to baked goods. It’s an excellent way of increasing the protein content of any baked good, and one-fourth cup yields approximately 23 grams of protein. However, since its protein comes from gluten, those with known gluten sensitivity should not use this or any other ingredient coming from wheat.

Low-carb breakfast recipes using vital wheat gluten >>

3Ground flaxseed

Adding whole flaxseed meal will increase fiber and omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) fats in any baked good. Using one tablespoon of flaxseed meal provides 1,600 mg of omega-3s and two grams of fiber. Its freshness and nutritional potency remains best when kept refrigerated.

Does flax have a dark side? >>

4White chia seeds

A naturally rich source of fiber and omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) fats, with one tablespoon yielding 1,400 mg of omega-3 and two-and-a-half grams of fiber. Chia seeds can be added to any baked good, homemade jellies and sauces or it can be sprinkled over yogurt, oatmeal or added to salads. Keep refrigerated to preserve its natural goodness.

Health benefits of chia seed >>


Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol derived from fibrous vegetables and fruit. It is not an artificial sweetener like Splenda and it does not increase blood sugar or insulin like regular table sugar (sucrose). In fact, it has 40 percent fewer calories than table sugar and is low-glycemic (table sugar is high-glycemic). Xylitol is safe for diabetics and anyone else interested in reducing overall sugar consumption. It can be used on a one-to-one ratio as a sugar substitute.

Sweets that are good for your teeth >>

6Cocoa powder (organic, unsweetened and alkaline-free)

Organic cocoa powder is an excellent addition to cakes, cookies or muffins, turning the typical baked good into a nutritiously decadent chocolate delight. Cocoa powder has one of the highest antioxidant and phytonutrient values of any known food providing serious nutritional value as well as emotional satisfaction. Combining three tablespoons of cocoa powder and one tablespoon of organic butter equals one unsweetened chocolate square.

Savory chocolate recipes >>

7Guar gum

Naturally high in fiber and gluten-free, guar gum can be used as a thickening agent in place of cornstarch. Unlike cornstarch, which comes from genetically modified corn, guar gum is derived from guar beans, which have very high antioxidant potency. Aside from having a significantly higher nutritional value than cornstarch, it has a greater thickening capacity as well. Use one-fourth teaspoon for every cup of almond or other gluten-free flour (coconut or sorghum).

Guar gum is not a weight-loss supplement >>

8Baking soda (aluminum-free) and cream of tartar

Use aluminum-free baking soda (base) and cream of tartar (acid) in place of baking powder, which is higher in sodium and usually contains other ingredients like cornstarch and aluminum sulfate or aluminum phosphate. Aluminum toxicity has been implicated in various conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, anemia, allergies and bladder cancer. When used together, baking soda and cream of tartar make an excellent leavening agent. Baking soda can also be added to other acids like lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt and cocoa powder.

Other foods that contain aluminum >>

9Fats and oils

Four key nutritional fats that everyone should have in their pantry or refrigerator are extra-virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, cold-pressed flaxseed oil and organic butter. These fats can be used alone or in combination in specific ratios to improve their nutritional value and stability when heated.

Recipes high in healthy fats >>

Up next: Get the skinny on healthy fats and your holiday recipes >>

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