Sugar is ubiquitous in our food system. You will find it in more than just sweet treats. Sugar hides in a lot of "healthy" foods, such as salad dressings, marinades, seasonings, jarred pasta sauces, flavored yogurts, granola bars and nut butters.

Because high-sugar foods top the list of factors that contribute to a "pro-inflammatory" lifestyle, I recommend my patients minimize sugar in their diet as much as they can. There is no minimal daily intake for sugar, but less is always better.

I'm a realistic dietitian and know that it's impossible to eliminate sugar 100 percent. There are occasions and circumstances where a little sugar adds a bit of flavor and fun to life. Food is more than simply fuel. We use food as connection, love, sorrow and celebration.

If you're like me, you'd much rather enjoy your sugar in a delicious favorite treat than unknowingly consume it as a hidden ingredient.

There are several ways you can reduce sugar in your sweet treats, including using fruit or vegetables as a replacement. For example, one cup of mashed ripe banana or one cup of pureed dates can replace one cup of white sugar in most recipes. While a cup of sugar has 200 grams of sugar, an equal measure of mashed bananas has only 28 grams of sugar, and pureed dates have 93 grams.

You can also opt for more natural sweeteners, such honey or pure maple syrup. But don't fool yourself because these are still sugar at their core, just not the hyper-refined white version. Luckily, honey is two to three times sweeter than sugar, so you can use less overall. Substitute ½ to ⅔ cup of honey for every one cup of white sugar. For maple syrup, it's ¾ of a cup for one cup of white sugar. Because honey and maple syrup have more liquid qualities, you will also need to reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for honey and three tablespoons for maple syrup. A ½ cup of honey has 139 grams of sugar while ¾ cup of maple sugar has 160 grams of sugar.

Here's a healthier sweet treat that I found on the Lake Superior Kitchen blog. Try it as treat for your sweetie on Valentine's Day.

Fudgy Chocolate Cookies

3 eggs

5 tablespoons butter

½ cup honey

2 tablespoons almond butter

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons coconut flour

⅓ cup cocoa powder

½ tablespoon baking soda

2 cups almond flour

½ cup chocolate chips

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Melt butter, let cool slightly, then whisk into the eggs. Whisk the honey and almond butter into the bowl. In a small separate bowl, combine the salt, coconut flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and almond flour. Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir until combined. Fold chocolate chips into the batter. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and place small balls of cookie dough two to three inches apart on the sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet. Yield: 2 dozen cookies.

NUTRITION FACTS: Serving size: 1 cookie; 102 calories; 6.5 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 1.5 grams fiber; 8.5 grams sugar; 2 grams protein.

Jean Larson is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Integrative Health Department at the Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic. Contact her at