Sweet Cherry Cobbler and Baked Apples Stuffed with Dried Fruit and Pecans To many people "healthy dessert" sounds like an oxymoron. But the collection of recipes here proves that desserts, when selected carefully and enjoyed in moderation, can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. "I think it's important for people to recognize that foods that are delicious can be healthy and foods that are healthy are often delicious!" says Sue McLaughlin, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator. McLaughlin, who is president elect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association, says an occasional sweet treat is no big deal, as long as you keep the portions of the dessert small and have an overall wholesome diet. "A general premise is to make nutrient-dense foods -- those that are high in fiber and whole grains, low in saturated and total fat, and high in vitamins and minerals -- the foods you eat most of the time," she says. Read on for some tips that allow you to have your cake and eat it too.
Seek Balance in Your Day
Nope, we're not talking about taking yoga, though that's not a bad idea either. It's important to factor in everything you eat in a day to make sure you're getting all of the nutrients you need and not getting too much sodium, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, and calories. "The key to keeping your blood-glucose levels on target is to substitute small portions of sweets for other carb-containing foods in your meals and snacks," explains the ADA Web site's section on Sweets and Desserts. In regards to fat, the ADA follows the guidelines of the American Heart Association, which recommends no more than seven percent of daily calories from saturated fat (that would be 16 grams a day for someone eating a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet). So if your dessert has, say, six grams of saturated fat, be sure to take in only ten additional grams throughout the day. If you're on a special diet for something like diabetes, consult your doctor or dietician about which guidelines to follow.
Sneak in Health Benefits
When choosing sweets, think about what the dessert can add to your diet, not just about what it doesn't have -- too many calories, too much sugar, or too much fat. For example, the fruit in these desserts provides fiber -- the Apricot Ginger Pear Parfaitsare a particularly good source (pears have even more fiber than apples). McLaughlin notes that the Butternut Squash Flanis a good source of vitamin A, which is an antioxidant. The flan and Strawberry Panna Cotta with Strawberry Compoteprovide calcium, thanks to their dairy content.
Make Substitutions and Slash Sugars and Fats
At Epicurious, we believe that recipes are meant to be played with (we provide a comments section on our recipes so you can share your suggestions and view those of other Epi members). Feel free to experiment with different ingredients. For example, McLaughlin suggests substituting walnuts for pecans in the Baked Apples Stuffed with Dried Fruit and Pecans, because walnuts are particularly high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And while all of the recipes here are fairly low in sugar and fat, you can try cutting those amounts even more to address any health concerns you have. With a little know-how, you can make most of your favorite desserts healthier by snipping wisely. For example, try swapping two egg whites for every whole egg in a recipe or use apple sauce in place of some of the oil called for (substitute one-to-one and cut down slightly on the sugar).
Think About Size
You've probably heard the portion-size lecture a million times -- it's an oldie but a goodie. You get most of the pleasure of a treat in the first few bites so why not stop there? "If you have a sweet tooth, a good plan is to keep your portion to no more than 150 calories, or so," advises McLaughlin. Spa chefs use miniature plates, bowls, and ramekins to make little, but satisfying, portions of desserts such as the Butternut Squash Flanfrom our Rancho La Puerta Spa Menu.
Frequency Matters, Too
Don't make caloric desserts an everyday thing. "Frequency is an important consideration," just like portions, says McLaughlin. "An additional sweet, figured into the overall meal-planning picture is not a big deal, on occasion. However, on a regular basis, an additional 150 calories per day means 15 pounds per year!"
Burn It Off
Exercise goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet. "If you just can't say no to the extra, make an agreement with yourself that you will exercise it off afterward," suggests McLaughlin.
Get Some (Nutritional) Analysis
Looking for more information about whether a recipe or meal meets the dietary recommendations of your doctor or the eating plan you follow? Check out our sister site Nutrition Data's food analysis tools. The American Diabetes Association's new MyFoodAdvisor, a calorie and carbohydrate counting tool designed to help with diabetes management, is also useful.
Want more ideas? Epicurious and Nutrition Data's Healthy Dinner Tonightgives you delicious and nutritious recipes -- with full nutritional analysis -- and healthy-eating tips every weekday (you can sign up to get the newsletter via RSS feed or e-mail).
Megan O. Steintrager is a senior editor at Epicurious.com. She has worked as a writer and editor at Epicurious since the late '90s. Steintrager holds a master's in journalism from New York University with a concentration in Cultural Reporting and Criticism, and has taken numerous cooking classes at New York 's Institute for Culinary Education and the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. She has worked as a writer and editor for ConsumerReports.org, Restaurant Business magazine, and Spin.com, and has been published in Self, Brides, and Time Out New York, among other print and online publications.
MORE FROM EPICURIOUS.COM:
Recipes & Menus
Epicurious.com's portfolio of dishes for all seasons, cuisines and occasions
The Epicurious Editors' Blog
Food News and Views From All Over
Delicious menu guides for the busy work week
Epicurious Technique Videos
See better approaches to preparing your meals
Assorted galleries featuring pictures and recipes from Epicurious.com