Simple substitutions to make desserts healthier
- Many low calorie or low-fat desserts aren’t as healthy as you think
- Partially or fully swap out ingredients in dessert recipes to reduce fat, sugar, or carb content
- Do your research before exchanging ingredients to be sure the flavor and structure of the dessert will stay the same
Try Googling, “Is dessert unhealthy for you?” Depending on the day, you’ll get a different answer. One day you’ll find a headline that says chocolate is good for you, full of antioxidants and minerals. The next day you’ll find a headline that says chocolate leads to heart disease and diabetes, so it’s best to avoid it completely. In fact, you’ll find similar articles about sugar, fat, oil, and all the heavenly things that make desserts so wonderful.
However, these articles are generally clickbait. If you read past the first paragraph, you’ll find that the headline isn’t completely true. Sugar, for example, is complicated. Naturally occurring sugars in fruits and dairy are much different than added sugars in candy and sweets. The American Heart Association recommends women have no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day and men have no more than 38 grams.
It’s important to know nuances like these to form a well-rounded nutrition plan. Desserts usually have a high-fat content and calorie count, so they are automatically labeled as unhealthy. In pursuit of staying trim and fit, many people will opt for low-fat or low-calorie desserts instead. Not only do these options usually taste terrible, but they are just as unhealthy as the normal dessert, substituting sugar for other missing ingredients.
Let’s admit it, we’ve all regretted ordering a low-fat muffin or sugar-free brownie at some point in our lives.
So, what do you do? Is there a way to enjoy dessert guilt-free without having to suffer through something tasteless and bland? It turns out, there are plenty of options for making desserts just a little bit healthier by swapping out some ingredients. We won’t say these will make your desserts completely guilt-free, but it’s a start!
Swap out these ingredients to give your desserts a healthy boost
Dark chocolate for milk or white chocolate
Expanding on the previous example, not all chocolate is created equal. If a recipe calls for milk chocolate, try replacing it with dark hocolate that has 70% cacao or higher.
The higher the cacao content, the higher the level of antioxidants, magnesium, and minerals. Milk chocolate has lower levels of these beneficial elements and more sugar; white chocolate is even worse.
Pureed fruits for sugar, oil, or butter
Unsweetened applesauce, pureed pumpkin, mashed bananas, and pureed prunes are just a few of the options you can use as a substitute for fat or sugar in your desserts.
All of these items contain pectin, which is a fiber that shortens and solidifies baked goods, much like fat does. Fruits are also naturally sweet and contain more fiber and vitamins, so you won’t miss much from traditional sugar.
Try replacing half of the fat source in your dessert recipe with one of these options to start. Substituting more may alter the flavor and consistency of the dessert, so you’ll have to play around with it if you want to do a complete swap.
Wheat flour for white flour
Flour is the foundation of dessert. It’s what gives a pastry its shape and structure, so you have to be delicate when replacing white flour with an alternative. For more fiber and vitamins, your best bet is to swap out about 1/3 to 1/2 of the white flour in a recipe for whole wheat flour.
The two are similar enough that the recipe won’t change drastically. If you have a different flour preference such as almond, oat, or rice, do your research before baking, so you don’t end up with a brownie brick by mistake.
Greek yogurt for butter
Plain nonfat Greek yogurt can replace butter to reduce the fat content while still keeping your dessert moist. Those adjectives “plain” and “nonfat” are important in this case because you don’t want to add a flavored yogurt with additional sugar and fat.
Bakers recommend a 1 to 1 ratio for substitution up to one cup. More than one cup of yogurt can cause dessert to be mushy and soggy.
Coconut cream for heavy cream
Coconut cream is an excellent alternative to heavy cream although it does have more of a tropical flavor. It has a lot of the same properties and is an option for vegans and lactose-free eaters.
You can buy it pre-made, or you can simply skim it off the top of a refrigerated can of full-fat coconut milk. Use it in a 1 to 1 ratio to heavy cream and enjoy!
More helpful tips
There are other things you can do to make your desserts healthy without sacrificing taste. If you’re searching for a low-fat option, try combining full fat and low-fat ingredients such as milk or butter. You can maintain the smooth and creamy texture you’re looking for with half the fat.
If a recipe calls for nuts, try cutting the serving in half and roasting the nuts before adding them to the mix. You’ll reduce the fat content, and the roasted flavor will take your dessert to another level!
Everything in moderation
It is possible to have your cake and eat it too. As with most things, dessert is all about moderation, and these simple swaps can help you maintain the balance between deliciousness and health. There are similar ingredient swaps you can try if you’re looking to expand this idea to your other meals.
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