Desserts aren’t off-limits if you’re aiming for a heart-healthy diet. You just have to choose carefully. The high fat content of some desserts, particularly if made with saturated fat—can cause higher cholesterol levels in the body. Over time, elevated cholesterol can lead to heart attacks, strokes, sluggish circulation and kidney problems. If you stick with healthier recipes, have dessert only a few times a week and keep it to reasonable portions—you can have dessert.
Some tips in making good tasting, healthy desserts:
Paying a little extra for high-quality products, like premium chocolate and pure vanilla extract, can pay off. More-flavorful ingredients make lower calorie desserts taste better.
Use two egg whites or a quarter cup of refrigerated egg substitute in place of one egg and you’ll trim about 60 calories and six grams of fat from your treats. In my experience, baked goods turn out really well when using egg substitutes.
Most chocolate chip cookies are much larger than what is considered a healthy portion. Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough. For brownies and sheet cakes, cut them into two-inch squares before serving. Pie slices should be about one and a half inches across at the widest part.
Replacing one cup of white flour with white whole wheat flour adds 10 grams of heart-healthy fiber to your baked goods. Because whole grains are coarser than refined ones, it is better to use no more than a fifty-fifty mix in your recipe.
You can also make graham cracker crusts that will hold together without melted butter. Pulse 10 honey graham cracker sheets (six ounces) into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add two tablespoons of low-fat milk and process for another 30 seconds, or until the crumbs stick when pressed together. Press the mixture into a nine-inch pie dish and bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes.
Sugar substitutes have a different chemical consistency and are often sweeter than sugar, meaning you’ll need less. For best results, use sweetener-sugar hybrids developed specifically for baking, like Domino Light or Truvia Baking Blend and follow the directions on the package.
You can use less fat and sugar in a recipe by substituting a portion of the fat and sugar with fruit or vegetable purees. They make desserts denser, so try a 25 to 50 percent trade to find the right combination.
Here are some suggestions:
The mild flavor of unsweetened applesauce works particularly well in muffins and cakes. Use an equal amount to replace butter, oil or shortening in your recipe.
2. Canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree
Substitute either one for fat in a one-to-one ratio in spice breads, spice cakes or chocolate desserts. You can also add a can of pumpkin to a box of brownie mix in place of the eggs and oil.
3. Prunes or dates
These add richness and deepen the color of gingerbread and brownies. Blend a half cup with six tablespoons of water until smooth, then use the puree to replace an equal amount of fat.
Try substituting half the amount of the oil called for with the same amount of mashed banana.
Chocolate Ricotta Mousse
- 6 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 1 15 ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Raspberries or shaved chocolate for garnishing
Place chopped chocolate in a 2-cup glass measure or small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on 70% power (medium-high) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave on 70% power for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until chocolate is melted, stirring every 15 seconds.
In a food processor bowl combine ricotta cheese, half-and-half and vanilla. Cover and process until combined. Add melted chocolate while food processor is running. Process until well combined.
Spoon into small bowls or glasses. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with fresh berries or chocolate shavings. Makes 4 servings.
Fresh Orange Sorbet
- 10 medium oranges
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 medium)
- Grated orange rind
- Mint sprigs (optional)
Carefully remove the rind from 2 oranges using a vegetable peeler; discard the white pith. Cut rind into 1 x ¼-inch-thick strips. Set aside.
Cut peeled oranges in half and using a citrus press squeeze juice from the orange halves into a large measuring cup. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 8 oranges until juice measures 2 2/3 cups.
Combine 2 1/2 cups water and the sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Add reserved rind strips to the pan. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Strain sugar mixture through a sieve over a bowl, reserving the liquid; discard solids. Cool completely.
Add orange juice and lemon juice to the sugar mixture; stir well. Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice-cream maker; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Spoon sorbet into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze for 1 hour or until firm. Garnish with grated rind and mint sprigs, if desired.
Dark Chocolate Mint Bars
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- 3/4 cup good quality dark or semisweet chocolate pieces
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup finely crushed chocolate wafers (about 19 wafers)
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon trans-free, fat-free shortening
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
- 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
- 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons kale or parsley juice for a natural green color, optional
Line an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Coat foil with cooking spray. Set aside.
For the crust:
In a food processor pulse oats until fine.
In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup of the chocolate pieces and the butter; heat and stir until melted.
Stir in the processed oats, finely crushed chocolate wafers, cocoa powder and salt. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Chill for 15 minutes.
In the same saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate pieces and the shortening. Heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Set aside.
In a medium bowl beat together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, milk, peppermint extract, vanilla and kale juice, if using for a green color, until smooth.
Spread over the crust and drizzle with the melted chocolate mixture.
Chill about 1 hour or until set. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan. Cut into 24 bars.
Almond Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 2 cups reduced-fat milk (2%)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons Amaretto or almond extract
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
For the Panna Cotta:
In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 3 minutes to soften. Cook and stir over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Cook and stir just until the milk is heated through and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in Amaretto or almond extract. Pour into four 6-ounce custard cups. Cover and chill about 8 hours or until firm.
For the sauce:
In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, orange juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and the cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Run a thin knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmold onto individual plates. Top with sauce. Makes 4 (1 panna cotta with 2-tablespoons sauce) servings.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
For a red color without the artificial dye, use either sliced or whole canned beets, whichever costs less. An 8 1/4-ounce can yields slightly more than 1 cup. Look to be sure there is no sugar added or that they are pickled beets. You will not taste the flavor of the beets in the cupcakes. It is best to make these cupcakes the day before you plan on serving them.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
- 1 cup canned beets, drained
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat buttermilk, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon. baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon. baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon. kosher salt
- 1/3 cup light olive oil, chilled
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg, cold
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
- 4 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into a 12-cup regular size muffin pan.
Coarsely chop beets and place in the blender with 1/4 cup buttermilk. Process until beets are finely chopped. Add remaining buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla and process until pureed, making sure no lumps remain.
In a small bowl, combine flour, 6 tablespoons of cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In medium bowl, combine cold oil and sugar. With hand mixer or electric mixer on medium speed, mix until the sugar is evenly moistened. Add cold egg and beat at high-speed until mixture resembles mayonnaise and sugar is almost completely dissolved, takes about 90 seconds.
Add the pureed beet mixture and mix until combined. Sift dry ingredients into the bowl and mix, either on low-speed or by hand until combined with the wet ingredients.
Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full.
Bake cupcakes for 28-30 minutes, or until tops feel springy. Immediately transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.
Cupcakes taste the best when stored overnight at room temperature in a covered container.Make the frosting as directed below and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, frost cupcakes, using about 1 tablespoon of the frosting for each. The frosted cupcakes can sit at room temperature for up to 12 hours.
Cream Cheese Frosting
In small bowl, work sugar and cream cheese together with wooden spoon or hand mixer until combined. Mix in vanilla.
This frosting is best when refrigerated 8 hours or overnight, loosely covered, before using. It keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Makes a generous 2/3 cup.
April 23, 2015 at 7:48 am
Some great recipes, again! Panna cotta is such a great dessert, and I love the idea of using milk instead of heavy cream. I will have to try this version, thanks.
April 23, 2015 at 7:52 am
Thanks Anne. I have make this recipe for guests and they love it. No one misses the cream.
Heidi Dawn Medina
April 23, 2015 at 8:08 am
Wow, they all look so yummy. I’ll take one of each please!
April 23, 2015 at 8:11 am
Our Growing Paynes
April 23, 2015 at 8:18 am
The mousse looks really interesting. I knew ricotta is used in desserts but I like the twist with chocolate.
April 23, 2015 at 8:22 am
Thanks so much Virginia.
For the Love of Cooking
April 23, 2015 at 9:12 am
My kids would LOVE those dark chocolate mint bars.
April 23, 2015 at 9:40 am
I bet they would Pam
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way
April 23, 2015 at 10:38 am
Excellent post Jovina and lots of good advice! If people would eat an Italian diet they would be following your suggestions. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables — what is in season and contrary to belief Italians don’t normally eat a lot of sweets. Desserts most of the time is fruit or cheese and the rich desserts are for special occasions!!
April 23, 2015 at 11:00 am
So right Marisa – the Italian way is just as you state. Sweets are reserved for special occasions and holidays. Thanks so much Marisa.
Amanda | What's Cooking
April 23, 2015 at 10:39 am
These are such great tips. My dad’s biggest issue with my recipes is that he thinks they aren’t heart healthy, but he’s wrong. Don’t use the butter where I do. My desserts don’t always use white flour, they often use a different kind or nut meal. Substitute yogurt for sour cream, low fat milks or almond milk, fruits for sweetness instead of sugar. There are so many creative ways to cook healthy and adapt recipes that when you learn them, no diet feels restrictive. I’m loving your substitution ideas, especially the pumpkin one. I love the idea of adding bananas for oil. And you’re right about high quality ingredients. It makes such a difference. Have a great weekend!
April 23, 2015 at 10:56 am
Exactly the way to do it Amanda. Folks don’t realize that these substitutions do not prevent a great tasting dessert. One has to be open to trying these changes and not get stuck in the usual. Thanks so much Amanda for your insight.
April 23, 2015 at 1:56 pm
Wonderful heart healthy recipes, Jovina! This is especially pleasing to me because I am on an elimination diet at the moment and everything seems to be off limits! The fat-substitutes are very surprising, I shall certainly be incorporating them into my baking from now on. My aunt once baked a beautifully moist chocolate cake and used courgettes (zucchini) instead of butter and none of hr children wanted to try it but it was honestly the best chocolate cake I had ever eaten, which just goes to show you don’t always need butter 🙂 Looking forward to trying out your recipes this week!
April 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm
Thank you for sharing and i can understand completely how important it is to eat healthy foods. I often use shredded zucchini in my baking, especially when it is plentiful in the summer. Here are a few other posts I did on healthy baking:
April 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm
Thank you for your links!
April 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm
You are very welcome.
April 23, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Awesome collection of deserts! Will definitely be trying some of them – thanks for sharing.
April 23, 2015 at 2:32 pm
Thank you so much Mary for your gracious comment.
April 23, 2015 at 2:56 pm
You had me at Almond Panna Cotta!
April 23, 2015 at 3:16 pm
Good pick Karen – that’s my favorite also.
April 26, 2015 at 4:17 pm
I vote for the chocolate ricotta mousse. How many servings would you say that recipe would make? Sounds like a good way to use some homemade ricotta.
April 26, 2015 at 4:53 pm
If you figure a 1/2 cup per serving then it should serve 4. If you make the portions larger, obviously fewer. Thanks for the question.