Holidays: Naturally Sweet
Cut down on refined sugars with these natural alternatives.


pb-ballsJWanousWelcome to the season of sugar: pies, cookies, cakes and the ever-tempting chocolate box. “If you’re like me, you have a love/hate relationship to sugar,” says chef Jen Wanous. “No sooner do I pop a peppermint cookie in my mouth than I start to feel the sugar crash. This season, I decided to give my body a break from the sugar rollercoaster by integrating more natural sugars.

Refined white sugar is the extracted juice of sugar cane or beet sugar,” she explains. “It goes through an intense series of high-heat filtration processes that strips it of all color and most nutrients. The product is then pure sucrose, which is a simple carbohydrate and can easily throw your body’s balance out of whack.”

“The sweeteners below have more of their natural vitamins, mineral and fiber intact – they are also more flavorful,” chef Jen says. “I have also included some technical baking information on how to use the sweeteners as a substitute for white sugar.”

Alternative Sweeteners:

  • Brown rice syrup (half as sweet as white sugar): Baked goods made with rice syrup tend to be hard or very crisp. Use in cookies, crisps, granola, pies and puddings. Substitute 1 1/3 cup for every one-cup of white sugar. Per cup of rice syrup, reduce liquid by ¼ cup and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda.
  • Date sugar (ground, dehydrated dates): Can substitute like amounts for white sugar. Can use in crisps, some baked goods and sprinkled as a topping. Careful, as it tends to burn easily.
  • Natural cane sugars (brand names Sucanat and Rapadura): Use one for one of white sugar. Replace ¼ teaspoon baking soda per cup Sucanat.
  • Honey (20 to 60 percent sweeter than sugar): Can use in all baked goods. Use ½ the amount called for in white sugar. For each ½ cup of honey used, reduce liquid by ¼ cup, but if there is no liquid, add 3-4 tablespoons of flour. Also add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda and reduce the oven temperature by 25 F.
  • Maple sugar (dehydrated maple syrup): While costly, this sweetener can be used in all baked goods. Use one for one for white or brown sugar. Per cup of maple sugar, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Maple syrup: Can use in all baked goods. Substitute 2/3 to 3/4 cup of maple syrup per cup of white sugar. Per cup of maple syrup: Reduce liquid by 3 tablespoons and add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Additional alternatives: agave (preferably low-heat processed), coconut palm sugar and stevia.

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Enjoy these cookie recipes where non-refined sugars are the star.

Peanut Butter Balls

These couldn’t be easier to make: No baking required! It’s fun for little helpers to make too. Yields about 20 balls.


1 cup natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky)

1/3 cup honey

¼ – ½ teaspoon salt (depending on your taste and if your PB is salted or not)

1 cup crisp rice cereal

Coco powder or powdered sugar for sprinkling


1) Add the salt to the honey, then in a large bowl, combine with the peanut butter. Add the rice cereal at the end.

2) Using a tablespoon or mini ice cream scooper, scoop out batter and roll in the palm of your hand.

3) Using a fine mesh strainer, add coco powder or powdered sugar, holding above the balls and tapping the side of the strainer gently until they are covered.

Almond Cranberry Cookies

Yields 20 cookies.


1 ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour (can use regular flour too)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, room temp

1 cup Sucanat

1 egg

1 teaspoon almond extract

Zest of one tangerine, clementine or orange

¼ cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup slivered almonds


1) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.

2) In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt, set aside.

3) In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and Sucanat until fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the egg and beat for one more minute. Add the almond extract and zest. Next, on medium speed, add the dry ingredients, gradually, 1/3 at a time. Once combined, manually stir in the cranberries and almonds (so you keep their shape intact).

4) On your prepared cookie sheet, place about 2 tablespoons of dough. Bake for 8-10 minutes until light brown. Remove from the cookie sheet and place on a cooling rack.


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