Senior Living

When Santa Can’t Do Sugar Cookies: Will Sweeteners Taste as Sweet?

When Santa Can’t Do Sugar Cookies: Will Sweeteners Taste as Sweet?

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Gramps is diabetic. Grandma’s watching her waistline. All those sugary desserts may be temptations they don’t need.

Meaning that vision of sugarplums just went POOF!

Or did it? You can still enjoy Christmas desserts if you have to go sugar-free.

Frontida Assisted Living Facilities, such as Kimberly Assisted Living and Memory Care, provide you with posts like this one to help you live your best life.

Pretty Please with No Sugar on Top

Thankfully, you’ve got options, meaning it’s possible your favorite Santa and Mrs. Claus can still pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie. 

Let’s look at ways to keep those sweet Christmas dreams alive.

(Once more, the fine print: I am not a dietician or a doctor. These are just ideas I’ve learned along the way. I always try hard to research what I write. But please check with your doctor/dietician to confirm these suggestions work for you and YOUR grandparents.)

Bring Them Some Figgy Pudding

Okay, that dessert isn’t really custard. But there’s tons you can do with the sugar-free Jell-O kind.

  • Mix your favorite flavors—yes, they even make a pumpkin one—with sugar-free cool whip for an easy-peasy but still oh, so yummy mousse.
  • Before you fold in the cool whip, add pumpkin puree, cinnamon, maybe even a little nutmeg, a dash of cloves…and now you have pumpkin pie in a cup.
  • Blend in fat-free cream cheese? You’re headed to cheesecake land.

Try these diabetic recipes and more here. (There’s a pumpkin ricotta pudding that just looks delish. And wait till you see the sugar-free pecan turtle cheesecake bars!)

When you find one you love, pass it on to your favorite assisted living facility chef so all the residents can enjoy it.

But sometimes you have your own family recipe. Now what?

Home Sweet Home Recipes

Maybe it’s the cake or cookies Grandma’s made every year since you can remember. The one that puts that twinkle back in Grandpa’s eyes.

And your heart hurts to think they can’t enjoy it now.

Well, maybe they can.

The grocery aisle has a whole line of sugar-substitutes for you to check out.

The goal here is to find a sweetener that satisfies Grandpa’s sweet tooth—but doesn’t raise his blood sugar.

1. Splenda & the Rainbow of Sweeteners

First there was Sweet ’n Low—Saccharin. The pink packets.

  • Saccharin was discovered in 1878 at Johns Hopkins University. (Who knew it was that old?)
  • In 1978, it fell out of favor after seeing its effects on laboratory rats. Interestingly, it’s making a come-back. (Apparently they debunked the lab results as being rat specific and fine for humans.)

Then there was Equal. NutraSweet—Aspartame. a.k.a. The blue packets. (And the fan of Diet Coke lovers everywhere.)

  • There have been lots of claims about this sweetener, too, but just like saccharin, many of the results have been questioned.

That brings us to the yellow packets. Splenda—Sucralose.

  • They say it’s 600X as sweet as sugar.
  • I say it tastes like confectioners’ sugar—that stuff you use to make icing. But not everyone agrees with me.

Since it’s closest to sugar in nature compared to the other packets, it’s sold as great in baking, especially since you can buy it in large packages. Meaning easy cup-by-cup measuring.

However, with its different texture (again, think confectioners’ sugar), I’ve found recipes don’t rise quite the same with it.


I DO use it in my bread-maker for enriched dough. (Just a couple Tablespoons, replaced 1-to-1 for the recipe’s sugar.) It comes out a little denser, but no one complains.

2.Truvia—the New “Green” Packet

Heard of Stevia? It’s an all-natural sweetener that comes from grinding leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant.

At first, because of its consistency, it was recommended for limited use. But recently, they’ve developed it with options for everything from sweetening your morning coffee to baking and frosting, and now you can buy it by the bagful.

Unfortunately, many find Stevia bitter. (Hand raised here.)

Enter “Truvia”: A name-brand version that claims to be a little less so. Somehow they extract the sweeter parts of the leaves—You’ll have to try it for yourself to see if it’s so. I’d say it’s a love it or frown-and-bear-it product.

(Some trivia on Truvia—or rather the stevia plant: It’s a member of the chrysanthemum family, but from South America…. Yep, with knowledge like that, you’ll be the talk of the next Christmas party. *wink*)

3. Monk Fruit—the Newer Kid on the Block

Liking the natural options? In 2010, the FDA approved southern China’s swingle fruit, lo han gu, for everyone, even pregnant women and children.

But if you (and your grocer) don’t speak Chinese, just ask for monk fruit.

Fresh, it looks like an apple-sized brown melon, but they either remove the seeds and skin, smash the fruit, and juice it, or dry the fruit and make an extract.

Either way,

  • Because you need so little of it, (it’s 150-250X sweeter than sugar), monk fruit counts as zero calories and carbs.
  • And since it’s actually been used for hundreds of years as a cold and digestive aid in eastern medicine, it doesn’t cause gas, bloating, or allergic reactions like some of the other sweeteners. (Unless you’re allergic to pumpkin. It comes from the same family.)
  • But the all-important question for diabetics—does it raise blood glucose levels? Most say it doesn’t, but check with your doctor. It’s so new, it doesn’t have as many scientific studies, and some seem to conflict.

Again, unfortunately, some think it’s bitter—that dreaded aftertaste. So try a little before you try a lot.

4. Swerve—Making Spirits Bright

Ever heard of erythritol? That’s Swerve. The friend of keto-dieters and diabetics alike.

Not only is it measured cup for cup like sugar, it also comes in all the same formats of sugar. So you can find just what Grandma’s recipe calls for:

  • Granular (like your regular table sugar)
  • Powdered (like confectioner’s sugar)
  • and even Brown (yep—brown sugar)

According to its website, Swerve even browns and caramelizes just like sugar.

Yes, you can get other brands of erythritol, but most users say Swerve has the least amount of aftertaste.

Gotta love that!

5. Xylitol—Beware of the Dog

As another weight loss and diabetic-friendly sweetener, xylitol is getting more and more popular—especially in the candy aisle.

  • It’s a sugar alcohol, so it chemically stimulates the sweet spots on your tongue. (Meaning it tricks your tongue into thinking it’s sugar.)
  • And since it’s naturally in some fruits and vegetables—in small amounts—it’s considered a natural sweetener.

You find it in chewing gum, mints, candy, … and even toothpastes, with some claiming it stops recurring ear infections, tooth decay and even osteoporosis.

But a HUGE warning:

While it’s considered safe—and possibly beneficial—for humans, it’s DEADLY for your pup.

Even 1 gram of it can wreak havoc on a 65-pound dog. (A xylitol “sugar” packet holds 4 grams.)

So if Santa Claus’ cookies have xylitol? Make sure Santa PAWS can’t reach them!

Making Sugar-free Christmas Desserts a Piece of Cake

Diet changes can feel overwhelming. But they don’t have to knock the jolly out of the season.

Just like you can get creative with salt substitutes and find other ways to butter Grandma and Grampa’s bread, you can still have tasty desserts without sugar.

Which one will you try?

If Grandma and Grandpa love good cooking but just can’t do it on their own anymore, Frontida Assisted Living chefs love to make tasty treats for holidays and all year round.

Check out these other helpful posts to learn more about eating and dietary issues for grandparents.

Thank you to Dilyara Garifullina on Unsplash for the featured image

Elizabeth Daghfal
• 5 min read

Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at