Your Favorite Desserts (and One Ingredient Swap to Make Each One Healthier)

If you’re like the vast majority of people, you love desserts. Any chance you get to indulge in something overly sweet, you will take it. Brownies, cakes, puddings — definitely anything covered in chocolate. You know dessert isn’t usually healthy. Yet you can’t seem to find a reason to give it up. Especially when it’s right there in front of you, begging to be eaten.

Thankfully, you do not have to give up the (chocolate-smothered) desserts you know and love so much. There are ways to make them healthier. In fact, almost every one of your favorite desserts contains at least one ingredient you can swap out with another, slightly healthier one.

Think this is too good to be true? Check out these healthy dessert ingredient swaps — and an easy to follow recipe to go with each one.

desserts



 

Cupcakes: Use avocado instead of butter

If you don’t mind a little green tint to your chocolate-free baked goods, you can easily substitute butter — loaded with saturated fat — with a more heart-healthy alternative: avocado. Avocado will give your favorite desserts a much thicker, creamier texture — but it makes them (a little) healthier to enjoy.

You can replace butter with avocado in any baked goods recipe. Doing so at a 1:1 ratio works, but if you’re using a recipe with butter to go off of, you’ll need to increase your wet ingredients a little bit to give the avocado the softness of more traditional butter. The recipe below has already accounted for that adjustment.

Vanilla Avocado Cupcakes (makes 12 cupcakes)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted, scooped, and mashed
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup and 1 tablespoon milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line a full muffin pan with cupcake liners. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, on high speed, beat together the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Set the mixing speed to minimum and drizzle in the oil. Beat until well combined.

Add mashed avocado to mixture. On low mixing speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk. Mix until all ingredients are well combined to form the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners and bake 18 to 20 minutes. Use a toothpick to test whether or not the cupcakes are done (if they’re done, a toothpick stuck into the middle of the cupcakes will come out clean). Let cool before indulging.

If you do want to make a whipped cream-based frosting for your cupcakes, make sure you let the cupcakes cook before adding it on top.

Why avocado?

Avocado, a fruit (not a vegetable!), is a healthier substitute for a number of baking ingredients, such as butter or eggs. It’s loaded with fiber and healthy fats, so unlike butter, it’s actually good for your heart. Eating avocados can lead to lower cholesterol and even weight loss. Here are all the awesome benefits of avocados — the perfect excuse to add more of them to your dessert.

Turnovers: Use unsweetened pumpkin puree instead of eggs

A turnover is the “dessert sandwich” you never knew you needed. Put a sweet or savory filling inside a pastry, seal and bake, and you’re in for a treat you definitely won’t want to share. It’s nearly impossible to resist sweet desserts, but by creating a pastry filling that’s fibrous and nutritious (sort of), you might be able to get away with sneaking an extra serving.

Unsweetened pumpkin puree won’t change the texture or flavor of whatever you’re baking it into. It’s a great egg replacement, especially if you’re someone diagnosed with high cholesterol who needs to avoid eggs — or your diet is egg-free for any reason. If you’re in the mood for something pumpkin-flavored, here’s a delicious recipe using both pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice (yum!).

Pumpkin turnovers (makes 18 turnovers)

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin, unsweetened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 sheets thawed frozen puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix together pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice. Roll pastry out into a 12 x 12-inch square and cut it into 9-4-inch squares. Spoon the pumpkin mixture into the center of each square. Fold each square over, corner to corner, and pinch the edges together.

Place turnovers onto prepared baking sheets and bake 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Let cool on wire rack before serving.

Why pumpkin puree?

You might think canned pumpkin only belongs in pumpkin pie, but it’s actually a healthy alternative to many emulsifying ingredients, like eggs. Pumpkin is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and and minerals like iron. Just make sure you buy your pumpkin puree unsweetened, both to save unnecessary sugar and to avoid adding too much extra sweetness to whatever dessert you’re preparing.

Cookies: Use chia seeds instead of butter

If you’re looking for an easy butter replacement that won’t turn your dessert green, chia seeds are the perfect fat replacement. Unlike butter, chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered to be healthy fats. Adding healthy fat to dessert doesn’t necessarily mean you can eat the whole batch, but you can enjoy a nice treat knowing you’re doing something decent for your heart.

Chia seeds mixed with other ingredients might not add extra flavor to your dessert, but they’ll definitely add plenty of fiber and healthy fat. To start with, try incorporating chia seeds into a traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe, leaving the butter behind.

Chocolate Chip Chia Seed Cookies (makes 14 cookies)

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/8 cup chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In one bowl, using a hand whisk, whisk together oats, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, chia seeds, baking powder, and salt. In a second bowl, whisk together egg, olive oil, and vanilla extract.

Combine both bowls and stir. Use your hands to knead the dough. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Lightly oil a large baking sheet and preheat your oven to 355 degrees F. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into golf ball-sized pieces, about 14. Slightly flatten the dough balls and spread them out evenly on the baking sheet.

Bake 12 minutes and check that the cookies are flattening out. Lightly press them down with the back of a fork to flatten them if they aren’t flattening. Bake another 3 minutes or until the cookies turn a golden brown color. Cool on a rack completely before you eat any!

Why chia seeds?

Chia seeds are rich sources of antioxidants, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids to keep you healthy longer. There are plenty of other ways to add chia seeds to your diet besides baking, such as mixing them into your oatmeal or blending them into a smoothie. Adding them to your dessert helps you take advantage of the benefits while still enjoying the sweet treats you love.

Mousse: Use plain Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream

Because mousse has such a unique, light and airy texture, many recipes call for the use of eggs and heavy cream to create the perfect dessert. Unfortunately, heavy cream isn’t called heavy for no reason. It’s high in saturated fat and calories, and lacking in many other nutrients.

The good news is, you can still enjoy a chilled mug of mousse without including so much cream into the mix. While it might sound strange, adding plain Greek yogurt instead of cream works the same way — and it’s much healthier. The best part is, you can create a chocolate masterpiece while reaping some of the benefits of yogurt at the same time.

Dark Chocolate Greek Yogurt Mousse (serves 6 mugs)

  • 9 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup reduced fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt

In a double boiler, whisk milk, sugar, and salt together and heat over medium heat. Whisk frequently until the mixture is hot, but not quite boiling.

Add the dark chocolate to the milk mixture and let it sit for 1 minute without touching the bottom of the boiler. Stir gently with a spatula until the chocolate melts evenly into the milk. Remove the mixture from the heat and continue to gently stir the mixture. You should continue stirring until the mixture is smooth (no longer grainy).

Add 2 cups plain Greek yogurt to a mixing bowl. Using a fork, whip the yogurt until it’s fluffy.

After mixing the chocolate one more time, begin adding it to the yogurt, folding it in and mixing until combined. Scrape the sides of the boiler to get as much chocolate into the mixing bowl as possible. By the time you are done folding and mixing, the chocolate yogurt mixture should appear light and creamy.

Divide the mixture between 6 mugs and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. You can let the mousse chill overnight as well. If you want, you can use a spoon to smooth and swirl the mousse before serving it cold.

Why Greek yogurt?

Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Many forms of Greek yogurt also contain a strain of probiotic bacteria that can improve your digestion. Yogurt is an excellent substitute for heavy cream, since cream can be higher in calories and fat, and lacks the nutritional value that yogurt is able to provide.

Brownies: Use unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk

There’s honestly nothing better than a slightly warmed brownie on top of an ice-cold scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you are craving the soft, chocolate-filled squares — not even just the taste, but the smell that comes with baking them in your own kitchen — you’re in luck. There are plenty of ways to slightly improve the nutritional value of a brownie — and it’s all in the milk.

While cow’s milk is higher in protein and calcium than almond milk, cow’s milk is also higher in calories — something you really don’t need in excess when making dessert. Even if you do not normally like the taste of almond milk, adding it to a sweet, chocolatey recipe, like brownies, can add a small healthy boost to one of your favorite desserts.

Almond Milk Brownies (makes 1 tray)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, combine olive oil and almond milk and whisk together. Then add the sugar and vanilla extract, whisking again until combined. Add in cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Gently mix until all ingredients are combined.

Add in chocolate chips and half of the almonds, if desired, and mix in well.

Pour your brownie batter into the baking pan and add the rest of the almonds, if you so choose. Bake brownies 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownies pass the toothpick test. A baked good passes the toothpick test when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let the brownies cool before you cut them into pieces and serve.

Why almond milk?

Unsweetened almond milk is lower in calories than cow’s milk, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone trying to lose weight — even while still eating dessert. In addition, buying the unsweetened variety can help you cut back on your sugar intake, at least a little bit, anyway.. Almond milk, being a plant-based product, is also cholesterol-free.

There are so many things you can do with your dessert to make it healthier to eat. This is another good excuse for making sweets at home, instead of settling for the store bought versions. While it’s true that a cookie made with chia seeds is still a cookie, at least you are doing all you can to add a few tablespoons of healthy goodness to the foods you love to eat.

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