Tips for heart healthy desserts that still taste great
At the end of a great meal, it’s natural to crave something sweet for dessert. Many desserts, though, are high in saturated fats and added sugars that can overwhelm our bodies and negatively affect our health. Registered dietitian Lisa Akly said it’s possible to put together heart healthy desserts that offer nutritional benefit alongside great taste.
Many dessert recipes feature fatty ingredients like butter, oil, mayonnaise, sour cream or heavy cream. “Dietary fats mainly coming from the unsaturated variety are important for healthy body function,” said Akly. “And oils like olive oil, canola oil and other vegetable oils usually have less saturated fat. However, the calorie count is about the same per tablespoon, so it’s important to pay attention to the amount of oil added into recipes.”
The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 6% of total daily calories.
How can I make dessert recipes healthier?
One way to adapt a dessert recipe to be better for your body is to swap certain ingredients out and add more nutrition in.
- If the recipe calls for oil, reduce the amount used or replace between a third to half of the oil amount with applesauce
- For mayo and sour cream, reduce the amount to try replacing it with low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt
- For butter, reduce the amount or try replacing it with soft margarine (which is low in saturated fat) or vegetable oil
- For heavy cream, use a reduced amount, or try using evaporated skim milk or low-fat yogurt instead
Does replacing ingredients with yogurt or fruit eliminate the sugar?
Whole fruit ingredients, milk and yogurt all contain naturally occurring sugars, but the nutritional benefits of whole foods outweigh the downsides.
“It’s added sugars we want to limit,” Akly said. “Think things like granulated or powdered sugar, honey or syrups. Many of our most commonly eaten items, like sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, desserts and sweets, contain added sugars.”
What about sugar substitutes like stevia or aspartame?
Sugar substitutes suitable for cooking are often called non-nutritive sweeteners because they contain no nutritional benefits like vitamins or minerals. They can help to save on calories and assist people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar while still enjoying a sweet treat, but they should still be consumed in moderation.
To up the flavor without adding sugar, try spices!
There are plenty of spices that help enhance the taste of sweet treats without added sugars. Many of them, you probably already have in your spice cabinet at home. Try sprinkling cinnamon in your coffee grounds before brewing to add a sweetened taste without the need for sugar. Other great options include ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.
Check your local store’s spices area for spice blends like apple pie spices or pumpkin pie spice that take the guesswork out of creating the perfect flavor combination.
Add some fiber or crunch for a twist on a healthy dessert
Whole grains like quinoa, oats and whole wheat flour provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. For a mix of healthy fat and protein, consider sprinkling nuts and seeds on top, or add them into the recipe itself.
Options for nuts and seeds perfect for adding into your desserts include:
- Sliced or slivered almonds, toasted (on top) or plain (mixed into the recipe)
- Chopped walnuts
- Chopped peanuts
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, toasted
- Flaxseeds (you can also replace one egg with a tablespoon of flaxseed meal mixed with three tablespoons of water)
- Chia seeds
Why is fiber important? What foods are high in fiber?
Fiber is found mostly in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. It may help to improve cholesterol levels as part of a heart healthy eating plan. It may also assist with weight loss, as it helps you to feel the same level of full while potentially eating less.
Fiber-heavy fruits are perfect options for heart healthy desserts!
“The American Heart Association recommends four servings a day of fruit based on a 2000-calorie diet,” Akly said. “One serving of fruit might be a whole fruit the size of your fist, a ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or a quarter-cup of dried fruit.”
One simple idea is to chop up one pound of strawberries and toss them with lemon zest and fresh mint. Taste and add one teaspoon or less of sugar only if needed. This serves four and offers plenty of sweetness and flavor with little to no added sugar.
When focusing on changing your eating pattern to emphasize heart health, you don’t have to give up dessert! Reduce added sugars and focus on dessert options that still offer nutritional benefits, and you’ll find that heart healthy desserts help you to still end your meal on a sweet note.
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