Call me a diehard peanut butter-dark-chocolate-whatever, cookie dough fanatic and blonde brownie lover. Let’s just say if there was one food group I could survive all day every day with, it would be desserts. But because I’m a feel-good girl through and through, you better believe you’ll find “recipes for being healthier [enter every sweet you can think of]” among my top searches on Google. Needless to say, I’ve done my fair share of homework on how to say hello to treats and give them a nutritional boost without sacrificing flavor (you’re welcome).
Side note: There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a, shall we say, hot chocolate sundae in all its rich, decadent glory, but if you’re anything like me and craving something sweet on the register, some dense additions of nutrients or ingredient exchanges can’t hurt. And while the word “healthy” has many connotations (good or bad), we’re referring to foods that are not only nutritious, but also appetizing, hit the spot, and bring you joy. Without further ado, read on for all the hacks you need to healthily whip up your favorite 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 the oil, butter, or cream for the avocado
Avocados can’t be wrong and being the base of a dessert is no exception. Discard the oil, butter or cream your typical dessert recipe calls for and let the versatile kitchen staple do the work. The best part (besides a wetter 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 substitute a cup of butter for a cup of mashed potatoes or well-mashed avocado. FYI, one avocado makes about three-quarters of a cup. And pro tip: According to The Kitchn, since avocado doesn’t melt the same way as butter, it won’t coat your dry ingredients as well, so to compensate, increase the amount of your wet ingredients or simply replace half of the butter with avocado instead. .
Recipes to try
Avocado ice cream
Chocolate and avocado mousse
Dark Chocolate Avocado Truffles
2. Opt for fruit or other natural substitutes as sweeteners
While we’re on the subject of nature’s candy (yes, avocado is a fruit), ditch the refined (read: processed) sugar found in traditional sweets and replace it with applesauce, bananas, figs, squash, or dates to offer a comparable sweetness. Just make sure your favorite fruit complements the flavor of what you’re preparing. Your taste buds will no longer be wise and you will load up on essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cherry on the cake? The fiber content in fruit slows down digestion, so you can say goodbye to that dreaded sugar crash you’d otherwise experience with refined sugar.
When choosing which sweetener to use, consider this: Apples, bananas, and squash work best in bread, while figs and dates pair well with brownies, cookies, or cake. Then, there are always the unrefined iterations of maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar sweeteners that you can count on to sweeten your baked goods. Whatever backup floats your boat, simply replace one cup of sugar with 2/3 to 1 cup of the alternative sweetener of your choice, and subtract the cup of other liquids in the recipe for each cup of alternative sweetener you add.
Recipes to try
Coconut Banana Oatmeal Cookies
Lemon and blueberry snack cake
Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread
3. Sneak in nutrient-rich additions
“Eat your veggies,” they say, and why not through a slice of lemon zucchini pound cake, a serving of cauliflower rice pudding, or a serving of red velvet brownies? I don’t have to tell you greens are good for you (hello, fiber, antioxidants, potassium) no beets (get it?), especially when they’re in baked goods, IMO.
Next up: legumes, especially black beans, chickpeas, and white kidney beans (blond, anyone?). Packed with fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and folic acid, and exuding a mild flavor and creamy texture, what’s not to love about beans? Plus, they can help balance blood sugar. Some recipes use beans as a substitute for flour (more on that later), others as a substitute for butter or oil (avocado, you’ve got some competition). Finally, go crazy for nuts. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts (I could go on and on) are all highly nutritious and full of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Whether you add nuts in or on top of your baked treat, you can’t go wrong.
Recipes to try
Vegan blondies with carrots and white beans
Chocolate lentil glaze
Pecan Pie Bars
4. Use cottage cheese
ICYMI, the high protein, low glycemic index, probiotic rich, vitamin B rich dairy product is back in the limelight and we are here for it. The delicate, slightly sweet and salty flavor of ricotta cheese makes it an ideal complement to countless dessert recipes without compromising the taste. It’s no wonder ricotta has become the latest #FoodTok sensation and TikTokers are turning it into sweet concoctions that will blow your mind, from pancakes to ice cream to cookie dough. Just be careful of any other ingredients like flavors, additives, lots of sodium, or other artificial preservatives in your cottage cheese product — it can quickly go from a healthy snack to a not-so-healthy option. If dairy products tend to give you digestive problems (um, bloating), it might be best to exclude the retro snack from your grocery list. Otherwise, it can be a healthy way to stay full and replenish essential nutrients as a replacement or addition to your beloved confection.
If satisfying your sweet tooth while giving yourself a head start in daily protein intake, improving gut health, reducing inflammation, and boosting energy sounds too good to be true, don’t take my word for it. Try these ricotta creations yourself:
Recipes to try
Banana Ricotta Blender Pancakes
Ricotta Ice Cream
Ricotta Cookie Dough
5. Replace all-purpose white flour with alternatives
Set the white flour aside, it’s not needed here. Most conventional desserts use refined white flour or enriched wheat flour in which the grains are stripped of their fiber, iron and B vitamins. In other words, they provide no nutritional value (sugar is not the sole culprit that gives cooking a bad rap). According to recent research, a diet high in refined grains, such as white flour, has a similar risk for premature coronary heart disease as a diet high in sugars and oils. Instead, get whole wheat, almond or coconut flours that really bring 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 substitute, is another rich source of fiber with 28 grams of fiber in a half cup.
Recipes to try
Whole grain cinnamon rolls
Chocolate Cupcakes With Almond Flour
Shortbread cookies with coconut flour
6. Add the protein powder
Eating the right amount of protein is a must for the repair and growth of our muscles and bones. The macronutrient is also a key part of the processes that fuel your energy, carry oxygen throughout your body, and produce antibodies that fight infection and disease. Not living up to your protein goals? TikTok’s Protein Fluff might be your answer (it has 263.7 million views, after all). What is it exactly? Think of it as an easy-to-make dessert or protein-packed post-workout snack with your favorite protein powder as the main ingredient. Using a blender or food processor, add unsweetened plant milk, a handful of ice, a scoop of protein powder, and frozen fruit of your choice, and Here you are!Thick and creamy protein goodness. There are countless other interpretations, so knock yourself out on TikTok.
For more protein-packed dessert ideas, add your own 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 with zero to minimal added ingredients is *chef’s kiss*.
Recipes to try
Strawberry Protein Fluff Bowl
Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Fluff
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