Whether you enjoy them after a delicious dinner or munch on them during the day to elevate your mood, desserts are a delicious addition to a balanced diet. For many people, however, they're a guilty pleasure. To make things worse, many so-called healthy desserts often lack flavor and — let's be honest — painfully disappoint.
Fortunately, you can make your sweet treats more wholesome with a handful of substitutions without compromising the flavor. Read on to learn our best 5 tricks to enjoying your desserts totally guilt-free!
1. Use Pure Cacao Instead of Milk Chocolate
Chocolate desserts are arguably everyone's favorite option. What gives them a bad reputation is that store-bought milk chocolate is processed and loaded with sugar. To make your chocolate treats healthier, use pure, unsweetened cacao whenever you can. If a recipe calls for chocolate chips or bars, opt for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao.1
Recipe ideas: Dark chocolate blueberry clusters, Vegan chocolate chickpea bark, and Chocolate arracacha pudding
2. Sweeten Them Naturally Without Refined Sugar
The choice of your sweetener will depend on the type of desserts you're making. Ripe bananas or dates can give enough sweetness to cookies and muffins. Stevia, on the other hand, is an excellent way to sweeten puddings and parfaits, while carob can add delicate sweetness and caramel-like undertones to homemade fudge and energy balls.
Recipe ideas: Mascarpone-stuffed dates with pistachios, Carob cheesecake in a jar, and Amaranth chocolate truffles
3. Add Nutritious Flours in Place of White Flour
Adding nutritious flours — like that from quinoa, almonds, oats, and buckwheat, among others — is one of the quickest ways to make your desserts more wholesome. They enhance them with essential nutrients, like protein, healthy fats, and fiber. While you may be able to successfully replace all white flour in some recipes, many work best when you substitute only a portion, usually somewhere between 25 to 50%.
Recipe ideas: Wholesome kaniwa flour muffins, No-bake chocolate oat & quinoa cake, and Gluten-free red quinoa madeleines
4. Flavor Them with Fruits
Another great way to make your desserts healthier is incorporating fruits, instead of using them just for decoration. Fruits like strawberries, peaches, and apples bring natural sweetness to the table as well as loads of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Plus, they add a lovely texture and make your desserts visually pleasing. Keep in mind that frozen fruits are just as valuable as fresh.
Recipe ideas: Healthy amaranth peach crumble, Frozen yogurt strawberry jam bites, and Berries & kaniwa crisp
5. Mix in Some Veggies
If you have never added veggies to your muffins and brownies, the thought of doing so may not sound appealing. But enriching your treats with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, black beans, or zucchini can help you cut down on fat and eggs in many recipes. They also give desserts a nice texture and a boost of key nutrients.
Recipe ideas: Kaniwa zucchini brownies, Amaranth chickpea brownie, and Sacha inchi sweet potato muffins
The ultimate trick to making your desserts more wholesome is being playful with them. Don't stress if you can't substitute all of the ingredients for healthier options. After all, the food we eat should still be enjoyable. Instead, start by replacing one major ingredient and gradually build from there. Over time, you'll learn all the hacks, including which substitutions work and which ones don't.
- Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Amazing Desserts Made with Vegetables, 2018
- Harvard T.H. Chan - School of Public Health, Vegetables and Fruits, n.d.
- Heliyon, Replacement of refined sugar by natural sweeteners: focus on potential health benefits, 2022
- Journal of Food Processing and Preservation, Evaluation of the substitution of common flours for gluten-free flours in cookies, 2021
- Journal of Food Science and Technology, Using alternative flours as partial replacement of barbari bread formulation (traditional Iranian bread), 2015
- Michigan State University, How to make healthier desserts, 2016
- NPJ Science of Food, Sustainable plant-based ingredients as wheat flour substitutes in bread making, 2022
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (2019). Chocolate, “Food of the Gods”: History, Science, and Human Health. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/24/4960