Healthy Desserts: Outsmart Your Sweet Tooth

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It seems like some of us were just born with a sweet tooth. Ice cream, chocolate, cheesecake, tiramisu... what's your dessert weakness?

Like all things, dessert is acceptable in moderation. A sweet treat once in awhile will not ruin your health or your weight loss efforts. To make sure that occasional desserts don't turn into the norm, there are a few options to make sure you stay on track. The Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source recommends sharing one dessert between several friends or substituting a lower-calorie option in place of as calorie-dense dessert.1
If you are craving a less-than-healthy dessert, eating a small portion is best. If you're at a restaurant, order one dessert to share with others in your party. If you're at a family gathering, ask for a half-sized piece of cake. When you're baking dessert in your home, there are several ways to divide up the treat into healthy portions. Stacey Harris, author of "The Diabetic Pastry Chef", recommends "baking cupcakes instead of a cake, tarts instead of a pie, and puddings in individual ramekins instead of a large bowl."2
The second option to eating desserts while trying to lose weight is to choose a healthier dessert. If you're baking at home, there are several substitutions that will lower the calories, fat, and sugar in a dessert. Angie Thayer, registered dietitian and the Food and Regulatory Specialist for Wilton Brands, has several good suggestions that will lower the calorie-count and provide an extra helping of vitamins and minerals, too.3
Instead of fat, use...Applesauce (cakes, muffins, cookies)
Mashed bananas (chocolate cakes, spice cakes, muffins)
Pureed peaches (cakes, muffins)
Pureed pears (coffee cakes, quick bread)
Pureed prunes (spice cake, scones, chocolate cake, brownies)
Mashed pumpkin (muffins, quick bread, gingerbread, fruit cakes)
Mashed sweet potatoes (muffins, cakes)

*Use half as much fruit as the total amount of fat called for in the recipe. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use 1/2 cup applesauce. If the batter looks to dry, add in more fruit or vegetables as needed.

Full-Fat Dairy SubstitutesCream -----> Fat-Free Half-and-Half
Cream Cheese -----> Fat-Free or Neufchatel Cream Cheese
Whole Milk -----> Full-Fat Soy Milk
Sour Cream -----> Low-Fat Greek Yogurt
Eggs -----> Two egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute for each whole egg

Be careful to remember that replacing the fat in dessert means a shorter baking time. Reduce the cooking time by at least 10 minutes to avoid burning the dish.

If you're ever in doubt about the healthiness of a dessert or the correct portion, read the food label or consult an online calorie-counter. Even with prepackaged or restaurant desserts, there are plenty of low-calorie and low-fat options available.

Here are some examples:

Ice Cream (vanilla): 260 calories per cup, 7g fat
Healthy Alternative: Frozen Yogurt: 200 calories per cup, 0g fat

Yellow Cake: 270 calories per slice, 12g fat
Healthy Alternative: Angel Food Cake: 130 calories per slice, .2g fat

Banana Split: 490 calories, 18g fat
Healthy Alternative: Fresh Fruit Salad with Dollop of Whipped Topping: 105 calories, 0g fat

1. The Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source. How to avoid overeating. 03 March 2012.
2. Williams, C. Upper St. Clair pastry chef finds diabetics can enjoy desserts in moderation. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 02 March 2012.
3. Thayer, A. Baking alternatives: Reducing fat in your favorite baked goods.19 April 2010.

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