It’s not often that the words “healthy” and “dessert” are used together. Desserts are usually an unhealthy combination of high sugar, refined flour and fat. They taste great and are a fun way to end a meal, but regular consumption of dessert can lead to weight gain, inflammation and increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So how do you turn sweet treats into something that offers a little more nutritional bang for your buck? Aside from the simple recommendation to have fresh fruit for dessert, there are a few tricks you can use to transform your favorite desserts into healthier—yet still tasty—versions.
Substituting healthy ingredients for less-healthy ones is a great way to increase the nutritional value of your dessert without sacrificing taste. The following table makes it easy to make some smart swaps.
|All-purpose flour||Whole-wheat pastry flour, nut flours, coconut flour*|
|Margarine||Grass-fed butter, coconut oil|
|Sugar||Coconut or date sugar, stevia**|
|Whole eggs||Egg whites (2 whites for every egg) or flax /chia egg (1 Tbsp. ground flax seed or chia seed mixed with 3 Tbsp. water)|
|Whole milk||1% milk, almond, cashew or coconut milk|
|Corn syrup||Raw honey|
|Butter, oil||Applesauce, mashed banana|
*Nut and coconut flours cannot be substituted in a one-to-one ratio for wheat flour. There are several good websites and cookbooks devoted to baking with these flours, including elanaspantry.com and againstallgrain.com.
**Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so much less is required. Stevia is not recommended for baked goods.
Sometimes all you need to make a recipe healthier is to sneak in some superfood ingredients. Most baked goods can handle the addition of ground flax seeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds for a protein and fiber boost. Chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pecans add a nice texture to cookies, muffins or brownies and boost the fiber, healthy fat and protein content. Superfood powders, such as maca, baobab and moringa, and spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, blend in easily to any batter, adding both flavor and antioxidants.
Good news for the chocoholics out there—the darker the chocolate, the less sugar and more flavanols it has. Dark chocolate (at least 70%), cacao (raw, unprocessed cocoa powder) and cacao nibs can be added to a brownie or mousse recipe for layers of chocolate flavor and texture. The flavanols in chocolate are antioxidants that act to lower inflammation and boost immunity. The Avocado Chocolate Mousse recipe, below, makes a nutritious and delicious treat, as the combination of the healthy fat from the avocado helps balance out the carbs from the honey.
U Rock Girl’s Avocado Chocolate Mousse
- ½ cup chopped dark chocolate (at least 70%)
- 4 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
- ½ cup raw honey
- ½ cup cacao powder
- 1/3 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- ¼ cup cacao nibs
- Fresh strawberries or raspberries (optional)
- Place the chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave for 40 seconds. Stir until smooth.
- Place the melted chocolate, avocado, honey, cacao, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down sides as needed. Spoon into four dessert glasses. Cover each glass and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Remove from the refrigerator and top with cacao nibs and fresh berries.