Sweet Talk
by Elisa Bosley

Baking with natural sweeteners will make you one smart cookie

doughThe mere sight of cookie cutters and mixing bowls is enough to sweeten anyone's day. The reason is simple: There's nothing like a homemade cookie straight from the oven to transform an ordinary afternoon into one filled with anticipation, warmth and joy. Yet many forgo these rewarding, easy eats because of that notorious culinary bugaboo: processed sugar.

Americans consume a lot of the white stuff — mostly from refined sugar added to almost every manufactured food we buy. Because the refining process strips cane sugar clean, all that remain are empty calories that provide no nutrients, overexcite the nervous system and blunt the appetite for more subtle flavors.

So what's a cookie-lover to do? Fortunately, options abound. Using fresh, unrefined ingredients and a few natural sugar alternatives, you can create delectable treats to please both palate and conscience. "People don't have to desert dessert to eat healthy," agrees Mary McCarty, author of Sweet & Natural (St. Martin's Press). "It's important to have a good repertoire of natural desserts, which is a big part of maintaining a healthy diet."

So go ahead: Get your hand caught in the cookie jar with these naturally sweet ideas.