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Label me a diehard enthusiast of all things peanut butter, dark chocolate, and cookie dough. Confessing that desserts are the ultimate food group for me wouldn’t be an exaggeration. However, as someone dedicated to wellness, I tirelessly explore ways to create “recipes for healthier versions of [insert any sweet indulgence]” by extensively researching methods to enhance the nutritional value of treats without compromising their flavor. You’re welcome.
Side note: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in a hot fudge sundae, relishing its richness and decadence. But if you, like me, have an insatiable sweet tooth, it wouldn’t hurt to explore some nutrient-rich additions and ingredient substitutions. When we say “healthy,” we’re referring to foods that not only provide nourishment but also satisfy your taste buds and bring joy. So, without further ado, continue reading to discover all the innovative techniques you need to create healthier versions of your favorite desserts. Oh, and don’t miss out on the must-try recipes for healthy treats. Spoiler alert: You’ll be rushing to preheat your oven in no time.
Replace oil, butter, or cream with avocado
Avocados are the ultimate superheroes that can do no wrong, even when it comes to sweet treats. Bid farewell to the oil, butter, or cream typically used in dessert recipes and let this versatile kitchen staple work its magic. The best part, apart from achieving a moist final product, is that avocados are packed with essential nutrients such as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, folate, and an array of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Take that, oil, butter, and cream.
A good rule of thumb is to use a 1:1 ratio, replacing one cup of butter with one cup of pureed or well-mashed avocado. Keep in mind that one avocado yields approximately three-quarters of a cup. Pro tip: Since avocado doesn’t melt like butter, it may not coat your dry ingredients as well. To compensate, increase the amount of wet ingredients or simply substitute half of the butter with avocados.
Opt for natural sweeteners like fruits
While we’re on nature’s sweet offerings (yes, avocado is a fruit), let’s bid adieu to refined sugars commonly found in traditional desserts. Instead, turn to pureed apples, bananas, figs, pumpkin, or dates to achieve comparable levels of sweetness. Ensure that the fruit you choose complements the flavor of your creation, like this carrot-coconut cake. Your taste buds won’t notice the difference, and you’ll be loading on essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The cherry on top? The fiber content in fruits slows digestion, bidding farewell to the dreaded sugar crash often associated with refined sugar.
When deciding on a sweetener, consider the following: Apples, bananas, carrots, and pumpkin work wonders in breads, while figs and dates pair beautifully with brownies, cookies, or cakes.
To add sweetness to your baked goods, you can also explore unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar. Whichever alternative you choose, replace one cup of sugar with 2/3-1 cup of your preferred sweetener and subtract ¼ cup of other liquids in the recipe for each cup of sweetener added.
Sneak in nutrient-dense ingredients
As they say, “Eat your greens,” and what better way to do so than through a slice of lemon zucchini pound cake, a serving of cauliflower rice pudding, or a helping of red velvet brownies? It’s needless to reiterate the countless benefits of vegetables (hello, fiber, antioxidants, and potassium), and they work wonders when incorporated into baked goods.
Next on the list: legumes, particularly black beans, chickpeas, and white beans (blondies, anyone?). Bursting with fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and folate and boasting a mild flavor and creamy texture, there’s no reason not to love beans. They can even help stabilize your blood sugar levels. Some recipes utilize beans as a flour substitute, while others replace butter or oil (giving avocado some healthy competition). Check out our Blondies Recipe that features garbanzo beans! We also recommend our Rose Snickerdoodle Hummus!
Finally, go nuts for nuts. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts—the list goes on—are all highly nutritious, rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Whether you add nuts into the batter or sprinkle them on top of your baked goods, you can’t go wrong. Try out this No-Bake Plant-Based Petit Four dessert that features plenty of nuts, nut butter and dark chocolate!
In case you missed it, cottage cheese has made a remarkable comeback. It’s a dairy product that’s high in protein, has a low glycemic index, is rich in probiotics, and is packed with vitamin B. Its mild, slightly sweet, and salty flavor makes it a perfect addition to numerous dessert recipes without compromising taste. It’s no wonder cottage cheese has taken the #FoodTok community by storm, with TikTokers transforming it into mind-blowing sweet creations ranging from pancakes to ice cream to cookie dough.
However, exercise caution regarding additional ingredients like flavorings, additives, excessive sodium, or artificial preservatives that might be present in certain cottage cheese products. What could be a wholesome snack can quickly turn into an unhealthy option. If dairy tends to cause digestive discomfort, particularly bloating, it might be best to exclude cottage cheese from your grocery list. Otherwise, it can serve as a healthy substitution or addition to your beloved confections, helping you stay satiated while providing essential nutrients. Don’t just take my word for it—try these cottage cheese-based creations for yourself!
Incorporate protein powder
Consuming adequate protein is essential for muscle and bone repair and growth. This macronutrient also provides energy, facilitates oxygen transportation throughout the body, and produces antibodies that combat infections and illnesses. Falling short on your protein intake goals? Look no further than TikTok’s protein fluff, a dessert or post-workout snack that has garnered a staggering 263.7 million views. What exactly is it? Picture a delectable treat loaded with protein, with your go-to protein powder as the star ingredient. Using a blender or food processor, combine unsweetened plant-based milk, a handful of ice, a scoop of protein powder, and the frozen fruit of your choice. Voila! You’ll have a thick, creamy, and protein-packed delight. There are countless other protein-infused recipes on TikTok to explore.
I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.