We all know the feeling. You just finished a nutritious dinner, but…it just leaves something to be desired. Unfortunately, eating dessert every night probably isn’t the best option if you are working towards specific health and fitness goals. While it’s totally okay (and encouraged!) to occasionally treat yourself, healthy substitutes can increase the nutritional value of your dessert and cut back on the foods that should be eaten in moderation. Let’s take a look at how to turn desserts that are comforting favorites into guilt-free healthy options and satiate that post-dinner craving!
Healthy Dessert Ingredient Swaps That Will Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
You don’t have to completely nix your favorite dessert to keep on track with a healthy diet full of nutrients. There are plenty of ingredient substitutes that will allow you to enjoy a sweet treat while also nourishing your body. Here are a few ingredient alternatives, so you can feel good about indulging your cravings:
- Unsweetened Applesauce: Substitute applesauce for oil or softened butter to cut back on saturated fat in your bakes. It seems strange, but the consistency of applesauce works perfectly in place of these commonly used ingredients and brings moisture and a satisfying texture to baked goods. When using applesauce in place of oil or butter, reduce the amount of applesauce by half. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use ½ cup of applesauce. You can feel good about the added fiber and reduced calorie content that unsweetened applesauce brings to the table!
- Honey or Maple Syrup: Studies have shown that elevated sugar intake is linked to obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease. (1) Using sugar substitutes like honey or maple syrup reduces your refined sugar intake yet still provides the sweetness you crave in a dessert. For every 1 cup of sugar that your recipe calls for, replace it with ½ - 2/3 cup of honey or maple syrup. You may need to adjust your recipe to account for the added liquid by adding more flour or reducing other liquids in the recipe. Add ¼ tsp baking soda for every 1 cup of honey used to allow your bake to rise properly.
- Whole wheat flour: If you’re trying to add more whole grains and fiber to your diet, this is the perfect baking hack for you. Heart-healthy whole wheat flour and all-purpose baking flour can be used interchangeably at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you don’t have to do any complicated math to figure out how much flour you need. Just use the exact amount the recipe calls for! It’s important to note that whole wheat flour will produce a more dense treat; if you prefer a lighter dessert, use half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose baking flour to get a fluffier texture plus all the health benefits of added whole grains.
- Coconut milk: If lactose is your enemy, then coconut milk is a great option to replace baked goods that call for milk. Other plant-based milks can be watery which leads to less flavor and thin batter that doesn’t rise properly, but the high-fat content in coconut milk creates the perfect consistency.
- Avocado puree: Packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, enjoy using avocado puree in place of butter at a 1:1 ratio. This works great in chocolatey/fudgey recipes like brownies. Avocado is known for lowering LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and maintaining HDL levels (good cholesterol). Your heart will be thanking you for this healthy trade!
- Chia seeds: If you follow a plant-based diet, you probably know how difficult it is to find dessert recipes without eggs. That’s where chia seeds come in! Combine 1 tbsp of chia seeds with 3 tbsp of water and let it sit for several minutes until it has thickened. Use this mixture to replace one egg in baked goods. Not only does this make your bake vegan-friendly, but chia seeds also offer a boost of antioxidants, protein, omega-3s, amino acids, and fiber.
Putting It to the Test: Honey Blueberry Muffins
This recipe uses honey rather than refined sugar for its source of sweetness. Known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, adding honey to your desserts can enhance your overall health and immune system function while reducing your refined sugar intake. (2)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30-35 minutes
Total Time: 50-55 minutes
Servings: 12 muffins
- ½ cup + 3 tbsp honey
- ½ cup softened butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 350*F.
- Cream the butter and honey, using a handheld or standing mixer, until fluffy and light.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
- Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a separate bowl. Add to the honey mixture alternately with the coconut milk. You may need to add extra coconut milk if the batter is too dry. The consistency should be thick, but moist.
- Gently fold blueberries into the batter.
- Line a muffin tin with liners and fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake at 350*F for 30-35 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean.
- Remove muffins from the tin and cool for ~30 minutes. Enjoy!
A Bake-Free Dessert: Chia Seed Pudding
If baking isn’t really your thing, try this easy chia seed pudding. All you need is 3 ingredients and a little space in your refrigerator! Prepare this dish in the morning, pop it in the fridge, and dessert will be waiting for you when you finish dinner.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Rest Time: 2-8 hours
Total Time: 2-8 hours
Servings: 1 serving
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- ½ cup milk of your choice
- 1-2 tsp of honey or maple syrup
- Mixed berries
- Coconut flakes
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips
- In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together.
- Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for about 8 hours. If you are preparing this dish in the evening, make sure the pudding mixture stays in the fridge at least 2 hours so that it can set properly.
- When the mixture has set, add your favorite toppings and enjoy!
The Finishing Touch
Treating yourself to dessert on occasion won’t ruin your diet, and is arguably a pillar of a well-rounded, fulfilling diet. However, if you have a sweet tooth and are looking to satiate it in a healthy way, there are so many great options out there. Try these healthy dessert recipes, or try modifying some of your favorites with nutritious alternatives. Let us know how it goes! Happy baking. 😊
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 28). Get the facts: Added sugars. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/addedsugars.html#:~:text=Americans%20are%20eating%20and%20drinking,including%20consuming%20fewer%20added%20sugars. Accessed 20 May 2023.
2. Samarghandian, S., Farkhondeh, T., & Samini, F. (2017). Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research. Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research, 9(2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424551/. Accessed 20 May 2023.