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The holidays can sometimes turn into repeated experiences of indulgences and before we know it, we are hitting the gym, starting a new diet, and cutting out all sweets so we can slip back into our pants. To avoid that this year, I’m sharing a few of my favorite dessert recipes and dessert substitutes that bring delicious flavors and nutrients back into your desserts without all the guilt.
I know, it doesn’t sound like a dessert ingredient but hear me out. Avocados give a creamy texture to your desserts. When making cake or cupcakes, replace every cup of butter with 1 cup of avocado puree, reduce your oven temperature by 25 percent and cook it a little longer for an even rise. Avocados have such a mild taste; you won’t even know they’re in there. By making that simple substitution you’re adding a healthy dose of fats that reduce your cholesterol by reducing your saturated fat intake from butter. Not interested in baking? Avocados can be used for a delicious chocolate pudding too!
Again, not your first thought when you think of a dessert, but beets contain nitrates that help lower your blood pressure by improving your blood flow. They’re also chock full of fiber, lutein that improves eye health and folate and betaine that lower inflammation and your risk of heart disease. Beets’ deep red color makes it perfect for hiding in any of your chocolate-based desserts like brownies! It helps replace the fat but keeps the moisture. Add ¾ cup of steamed beets to your chocolate brownie or cake recipe in place of the fats in your brownie recipe for best results. Looking for a quick, red velvet inspired recipe? Look no further.
Canned pumpkin is an affordable and easy substitute to all your cinnamon and everything spice cakes. For brownies that often call for oils, replace equal amounts of oil with pumpkin spice. For recipes that use butter, substitute it with three-quarters pumpkin puree. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use only ¾ cups of pumpkin puree. The beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C provide added nutrition that butter and oils could never provide!
These often-forgotten fruits make an excellent substitution to butter and sugar. First, mix one cup of pitted prunes or dates with six tablespoons of water and then blend it until it’s smooth. Replace every cup of fat like butter with its 1627 calories with half the amount of prune puree at just 418 calories. This easy swap adds 12g of fiber to your dessert and the prunes contain natural sugars so you’ll be able to decrease the amount of sugar your recipe calls for. Because prunes and dates have a dark color, I recommend using them with chocolate cake, brownies, and spice cakes.
The live cultures, protein, and calcium in Greek yogurt make it an excellent substitution to butter or margarine in baking. You can replace the butter completely with equal amounts of Greek yogurt or replace 1 cup of butter with half a cup of Greek yogurt. Be sure to choose plain yogurt to keep the sugar content low
Selecting the best ingredients available to you makes a huge difference in taste and flavor, making your baked goods even more satisfying. Instead of a generic chocolate chip, look for mini dark chocolate chips with a high cacao percentage. You’ll get more chips per bite without adding more to the batter. Replace vanilla extract with vanilla bean pods and ingredients like lemon juice, with fresh lemon juice and zest to add more depth to your baked goods.
Are you new to baking and looking some healthier dessert recipes to try? Check out our curated selection of healthy recipes. Our vegan chocolate chip cookie and homemade nut milk make any holiday party, and Santa, healthier. Looking for a comforting, rustic dessert? Try our apple muffin or our cinnamon apple crepes. Got invited to a last-minute party? Arrive with a chocolate chia seed pudding. Or try adding peppermint or mint for a more festive touch!
Gigi Kwok-Hinsley, DrPH, M.S., R.D., is a Registered Dietitian with a Doctorate in Public Health in the Greater Los Angeles area specializing in nutrition and public health research with experience in adult weight management, school nutrition and health and wellness. Dr. Kwok-Hinsley completed her doctorate in public health at Loma Linda University School of Public Health with an emphasis in preventive care and health care management. She conducted research in bitter taste sensitivity as it relates to a patient’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Outside of work and school, she is actively involved in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
An avid runner and ball hockey player, Gigi also holds a deep understanding of the relationship between evidence-based nutrition and sports performance. With 7 marathons under her belt, Gigi qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2015.
In the past, Gigi held positions in clinical nutrition research at the Veteran Affairs Hospital – West Los Angeles and Kaiser Permanente in health education. She is also an adjunct professor at Mount San Antonio Community College in Los Angeles.
Beside working and running, Gigi enjoys cooking and baking for friends and family.
Gigi holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, San Diego and received her dietetics training from the Coordinated Dietetics Program at California State University, Los Angeles.