Call me a peanut-butter-dark-chocolate-anything diehard, a cookie-dough fanatic, and a brownie-blondie lover. Let’s just say if there was one food group I could subsist on all day every day, it would be desserts. But because I’m a wellness girlie through and through, you better believe you’ll find “recipes for healthier [enter every sweet you can think of]” among my top Google searches. Needless to say, I’ve done my fair share of homework on how to healthify treats and give them a nutritional boost without sacrificing flavor (you’re welcome).
Side note: There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a, say, hot fudge sundae in all its rich, decadent glory, but if you’re like me and crave something sweet on the reg, some nutrient-dense additions or ingredient swaps can’t hurt. And while the word “healthy” comes with many connotations (whether good or bad), we’re referring to foods that are not only nourishing, but also mouth-watering, hit the spot, and bring you joy. Without further ado, read on for all the hacks you need to make healthy takes on your fave desserts. Oh, and must-try recipes for healthy desserts are included. Spoiler: You’re going to want to go preheat the oven stat.
1. Swap oil, butter, or cream for avocado
Avocados can do no wrong, and being the base of a sweet treat is no exception. Scrap the oil, butter, or cream your typical dessert recipe calls for and let the versatile kitchen staple do its thing. The best part (other than a more moist final product)? Avocados are packed with key nutrients, including heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, folate, not to mention antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Take that oil, butter, and cream.
A general rule of thumb is a 1:1 ratio, so replace one cup of butter with one cup of pureed or well-mashed avocado. FYI, one avocado yields about three-quarters of a cup. And pro tip: According to the The Kitchn, since avocado doesn’t melt the same way butter does, it won’t coat your dry ingredients as well, so to compensate, increase the amount of your wet ingredients or just replace half of the butter with avocados instead.
Recipes To Try
2. Opt for fruits or other natural substitutes as sweeteners
While we’re on the topic of nature’s candy (yes, avocado is a fruit), ditch the refined (read: processed) sugar found in traditional desserts and sub in pureed apples, bananas, figs, pumpkin, or dates to deliver a comparable sweetness. Just make sure your fruit of choice complements the flavor of what you’re making. Your taste buds will be none the wiser, and you’ll be loading up on essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The cherry on top? The fiber content in fruit slows digestion, so you can say goodbye to that dreaded sugar crash you otherwise would experience with refined sugar.
When choosing which sweetener to use, consider this: Apples, bananas, and pumpkin work best in breads, while figs and dates pair well with brownies, cookies, or cakes. Then, there are always the unrefined iterations of sweeteners—maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar—you can count on to sweeten your baked goods. Whichever backup floats your boat, simply replace one cup of sugar with 2/3-1 cup of the alternative sweetener of your choosing and subtract ¼ cup of other liquids in the recipe for every cup of alternative sweetener you add.
Recipes To Try
3. Sneak in nutrient-dense additions
“Eat your greens,” they say, and why not by way of a slice of lemon zucchini pound cake, a serving of cauliflower rice pudding, or a helping of red velvet brownies? I don’t have to tell you that vegetables are good for you (hello, fiber, antioxidants, potassium)—nothing beets (get it?) ’em, especially when they’re in baked goods, IMO.
Next up: legumes, in particular black beans, chickpeas, and white beans (blondies, anyone?). Brimming with fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and folate and exuding a mild flavor and creamy texture, what’s not to love about beans? Plus, they can help balance your blood sugar. Some recipes use beans as a replacement for flour (more on that to come), others as a substitute for butter or oil (avocado, you’ve got some competition). Finally, go nuts for nuts. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts (I could go on and on)—they’re all highly nutritious, and filled with healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Whether you add nuts into or atop your baked goody, you can’t go wrong.
Recipes To Try
4. Utilize cottage cheese
ICYMI, the high-protein, low-glycemic-index, probiotic-rich, and vitamin B-packed dairy food has made a major comeback, and we’re here for it. Cottage cheese’s mild, slightly sweet, and salty flavor makes it an ideal complement to countless dessert recipes without compromising taste. It’s no wonder cottage cheese has become #FoodTok’s latest sensation and TikTokers are transforming it into sweet concoctions that will blow your mind—from pancakes to ice cream to cookie dough. Just beware of any other ingredients such as flavoring, additives, a lot of sodium, or other artificial preservatives present in your cottage cheese product—it can quickly go from a wholesome snack to a not-so-healthy option. If dairy tends to give you digestive drama (ahem, bloating), it may be best to exclude the retro snack from your grocery list. Otherwise, it can be a healthy way to stay satiated and load up on essential nutrients as a substitution in or addition to your beloved confection.
If satisfying your sweet tooth while giving yourself a leg up in your daily protein intake, improving your gut health, reducing inflammation, and boosting energy sound too good to be true, don’t take my word for it. Try these cottage cheese creations for yourself:
Recipes To Try
5. Substitute white all-purpose flour for alternatives
Step aside white flour, you’re not needed here. Most conventional desserts use refined white flour or enriched wheat flour where grains are stripped of their fiber, iron, and B vitamins. In other words, they don’t provide any nutritional value (sugar isn’t the only culprit that gives baking a bad rap). According to recent research, a diet high in refined grains, such as white flour, poses a similar risk for premature coronary artery disease as a diet full of sugars and oils. Instead, reach for whole wheat, almond, or coconut flour that actually brings something to the table. Whole wheat flour, for example, has 12 grams of fiber in one cup; almond flour is a gluten-free option that’s higher in fat and protein than many of its counterparts; and coconut flour, another gluten-free stand-in, is another rich source of fiber with 28 grams of fiber in a half-cup.
Recipes To Try
6. Add protein powder
Eating the right amount of protein is a must for our muscles and bones to repair and grow. The macronutrient is also a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy, carry oxygen throughout your body, and make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses. Falling short on your protein goals? TikTok’s protein fluff just might be your answer (it’s got 263.7 million views after all). What exactly is it? Consider it an easy-to-make dessert or post-workout snack chock-full of protein with your go-to protein powder as the star ingredient. Using a blender or food processor, throw in unsweetened plant-based milk, a handful of ice, a scoop of protein powder, and frozen fruit of your choice, and voila!—thick, creamy protein goodness. There are countless other renditions, so knock yourself out on TikTok.
For other protein-loaded dessert ideas, add your protein powder to the usual suspects: brownies, ice cream, cookies, pies, you name it. A word to the wise: When selecting a protein powder, look closely at its ingredients—one that’s low in sugar and has zero to minimal added ingredients is *chef’s kiss*.
Recipes To Try