These easy, five-ingredient healthy Christmas cookies will be your go-to this holiday season! The classic shortbread cookie recipe gets a major upgrade with gluten-free and refined sugar-free ingredients like raw honey instead of sugar, nutty whole grain flours, and buttery ghee for healthy fats.
UPDATE: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated to reflect new information, tips, and guidelines.
This post is sponsored by Sprouts. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
One of my favorite things about the holidays are the traditions and, not surprisingly, many of them revolve around food.
But as I've made the transition to healthier, real foods and a cleaner lifestyle, I've faced a dilemma: how can I enjoy classic favorites (that are usually on the opposite side of healthy) and keep my coveted family traditions alive, while still honoring my modern healthy lifestyle preferences?
I know this is a challenge many of us face, particularly around this time of year, so I wanted to show you just how easy it is to make some simple swaps in traditional recipes to upgrade the health factor without sacrificing taste.
To do so, we're showcasing one of my holiday favorites–shortbread cookies!
Healthy Christmas cookies, you say? Yes, it CAN be done! *cue the trumpets*
But first, I need a moment to get on my soapbox: please don't stress over every last cookie and calorie. Enjoy yourself, not only during the holidays but year-round! Stressing about food will add more health challenges to your plate than a few servings of cookies ever will.
That said, if it's easy to make a swap from white flour to whole grain flour, why not? It tastes the same or even better!
Today I'm so excited to share with you my family's shortbread recipe, a holiday tradition in our home that is seriously the best shortbread recipe I've ever tried. The original, as expected, is not exactly healthy as it's made with refined flour, refined white sugar and margarine (gross!).
Let's break it down and see how to make some delicious healthy swaps!
Healthy Christmas Cookies: Ingredient Swaps
First, a common misconception is that healthy baking requires fancy and obscure ingredients.
Well my friends, you better believe that you don't need to waste time or effort this year with special online ordering or wandering up and down the aisles at fancy grocery stores hoping you find what you need.
In fact, you can actually get everything you need for these healthy Christmas cookies at your neighborhood Sprouts Farmers Market!
Sprouts is my go-to grocery store if you’re looking for healthy, high quality and sustainably sourced products–all at affordable prices.
With dozens of grocery store options these days, I think it’s important to find the few brands who offer the right balance of selection, quality AND price, and IMHO, Sprouts Farmers Market does an amazing job at delivering that value. Their selection is in line with Whole Foods, but their prices are in line with Kroger.
Plus, they have awesome weekly and monthly deals that save you even more money, AND they have a new app where you can add promo codes and digital coupons to your account and then simply scan at checkout to save. Their coupons are super generous and for healthy foods you’d actually want to buy, not just a bunch of junk.
If you’re looking for the closest location, go to the store locator to find a Sprouts near you!
REFINED SUGAR: SWAP FOR RAW HONEY
Oh, refined sugar, how you make your way into every holiday recipe known to man.
I think we all know by now the dangers of sugar and how too much leads to insulin spikes, health problems like heart disease, obesity and much more. There are so many amazing alternatives now to refined white sugar that have less of an effect on blood sugar, and can even deliver an array of health benefits!
One of my absolute favorites is raw honey, a pure, unfiltered and unpasteurized sweetener which makes a perfect swap in this recipe as it delivers a lightly sweet, caramely, nutty flavor.
Not only is the flavor spot on, but raw honey has amazing health benefits and nutritional superpowers. It can help with allergies (especially when it’s harvested from your local area), sleep problems, energy levels, immunity and more. Ideally, buy local and sustainable (and when possible organic) for maximum health benefits.
Whatever you do, avoid processed honey (like the one that comes in the plastic bear) that not only has a higher Glycemic Index (meaning it causes a bigger spike in your blood sugar), but isn't eco-friendly and has way less nutritional value. Why?
Commercial honey is heavily processed, may be chemically refined, may have additives and can be sourced from bees treated with antibiotics. The excessive filtering and processing destroys honey's natural enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. (source) Plus, conventional beekeeping and honey production is detrimental, unethically harvested and exploits the bees. (source)
The point? Just say NO to commercial honey and go raw and organic (and local)!
REFINED FLOUR: SWAP FOR WHOLE GRAIN OR GLUTEN FREE FLOUR
When food is refined–like traditional white flour–vital nutrients are destroyed; refined white flour contains almost no natural minerals and vitamins. Plus, it's highly processed, often with chemicals, and usually comes from GMO crops. (source)
That's why in this healthy Christmas cookie recipe I opted for whole grain flours which, according to the FDA, must contain all components of a grain kernel, and are much less processed and thus still retain their nutrients, like fiber. These flours still result in that classic shortbread color, too!
I swapped Bob's Red Mill 1:1 Baking Flour for traditional refined flour in this healthy Christmas cookie recipe to keep it gluten-free and easy. This particular blend has sweet white rice flour, whole grain brown rice flour, whole grain sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato starch and xanthan gum for thickening.
If you don't need this healthy Christmas cookie to be gluten-free, you can also use Bob's Red Mill Organic Ivory Wheat Flour. Bob's Red Mill products are whole grain, healthier alternatives to traditional baking ingredients, and are available in the baking aisle at Sprouts!
MARGARINE OR BUTTER: SWAP FOR GHEE
A key ingredient in traditional shortbread recipes is margarine or butter.
What's wrong with margarine? Margarine was invented as an alternative to butter, lower in saturated fats to supposedly protect heart health. But, we now know that’s not true as–despite conventional beliefs–dietary saturated fat doesn’t correlate with disease and shouldn't be demonized. (source)
Trans fats were the original fats used in margarine, and we know today that trans fats are responsible for about 50,000 fatal heart attacks a year. (source) While trans fats have since been removed from most margarine, it’s important to note that most still contain industrial, highly processed vegetable oil-based fats–like soybean oil, canola oil and sunflower oil to name a few–that would never be found in nature, and are most likely from GMO-crops.
These oils are predominantly made up of polyunsaturated fats (a.k.a. PUFA's), which are easily oxidized (through heat and light). Oxidized PUFA's have been shown to cause A LOT of health problems when ingested like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, IBS and arthritis. (source)
Okay, enough hating on margarine. You get the point: ditch the toxic processed foods and go for real, health-promoting natural fats instead!
While you could use organic, grass-fed butter in this recipe, I opted to use ghee for its amazing health benefits and to make this recipe lactose-free.
Unfamiliar with ghee? We’ve talked about it a lot on R+R (see this butter coffee post, for example), but if it’s still foreign to you, now is the perfect time to broaden your horizons on this healthy fat.
Essentially, ghee is a shelf-stable clarified butter that’s been long-simmered to boost it’s natural nutrient profile, bringing out even more buttery flavor, removing the lactose (amazing for anyone with intolerances or digestion issues) and increasing its smoke point (read: you can use ghee to fry foods at high heat).
What makes it so healthy?
- Ghee is rich in fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E & K, which play a role in everything from maintaining healthy vision and bones, to keeping our skin glowing, to balancing our hormones and metabolism. Healthy fats (like ghee) are needed to help you better absorb these nutrients from your food.
- Ghee is anti-inflammatory and supports digestion; it's packed with CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown in some studies to be effective in reducing body fat, preventing cancer formation, alleviating inflammation and even lowering blood pressure.
- It’s also filled with butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that plays a central role in gut health and may help support healthy insulin levels and fighting off inflammation. (source)
Plus, the flavor profile is beyond delicious! It's richness really makes for a perfect swap in these healthy Christmas cookies. Look for organic, grass-fed ghee for the highest nutrient profile, which you can get at Sprouts.
Healthy Christmas Cookies: Shortbread
One of the best things about this shortbread recipe is that it only has five ingredients and is SUPER easy! It's perfect for the holidays when you want to have cookies on the ready. I know you're extra busy this time of year, so how awesome is it to have a recipe for healthy Christmas cookies that seriously requires minimal prep time and just a handful of ingredients?!
Remember to shop at Sprouts for all your holiday needs, and keep your eyes peeled on all the savings opps with weekly coupons, monthly deals and discounts on their app!
I hope your family loves this recipe as much as mine does! If you try this shortbread recipe, be sure to share a photo and tag me @rootandrevel on social media–I’d LOVE to see how it turned out for you!
Healthy Christmas Cookies: Shortbread Recipe with Ghee (Gluten Free + Refined Sugar Free!)
- 1 cup organic, grass-fed ghee softened to room temp
- 1/2 cup raw, organic honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour OR Organic Ivory Wheat Flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 275°F. Line a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper, and lightly flour to prevent sticking.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the ghee, honey, and vanilla; then beat in the flour, one cup at a time.
- Press the dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with a rolling pin. Use a fork to prick the dough all over to allow steam to escape. Bake the shortbread until it's a light golden brown on top, a tad darker around the edges, about 1 hour.
- Remove shortbread from the oven, and immediately add the cookie onto a clean work surface. Using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut shortbread into squares (it doesn't have to be perfectly symmetrical, but the cookies need to be warm so they cut more easily). Transfer the shortbread cookies to a rack to cool. Serve and enjoy!
*Note: Nutrition panel uses Bob's Red Mill 1:1 Gluten Free Baking Flour. Organic Ivory Wheat option will vary.