Irresistible, Healthy Desserts
Satisfy your sweet tooth without giving up on healthy eating. Get ideas for clever tweaks and substitutions — and 20 of the best healthy dessert recipes.
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Healthy Chocolate Banana Brownies; photograph by Olga Ivanova
In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve gone a full day without something sweet. As a chubby kid, it was usually cookies, candy, or ice cream. As an adult who’s lost a substantial amount of weight, it’s more likely to be a dessert that uses health-conscious ingredients.
Whatever kind of sweet treat you’re looking for, you’ll find inspiration here.
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Healthy desserts FAQs
Let’s talk about what goes into a healthy dessert
What are healthy desserts?
Done right, you’d never guess that a healthy dessert is anything other than a scrumptious treat. To my mind, it has to meet three standards:
It must taste great. Obviously.
It must satisfy my craving. There’s no point in eating something healthier if you still wind up wanting its indulgent cousin.
It must swap out empty calories (I’m looking at you, white flour and sugar) for ingredients that supply key nutrients.
How to make healthy desserts?
It doesn’t take much, really. Here’s what I do:
Reach for whole grain or almond flour instead of all-purpose. You’ll get more fiber and protein, which can help you feel satisfied for longer.
Opt for dark chocolate over milk. Dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao) has less sugar and provides antioxidants and other nutrients.
Make heart-smart swaps for butter and cream. Coconut and other vegetable oils, lowfat Greek yogurt, applesauce, and similar options can replace most or all the butter in a recipe, and evaporated skim milk or coconut milk makes excellent substitutes for heavy cream. This helps keep saturated fat to a minimum.
Cut the sugar by using fruit like bananas and dates for some or all of it.
Avoid frying. Pretty sure I don’t have to explain why.
Healthy chocolate desserts
In my family, it hardly counts as a true dessert without chocolate
Gluten-free and fudgy as all get-out, these brownies get most of their sweetness from ripe bananas and unsweetened applesauce — just 1/4 cup of honey goes in as a sweetener. Whole grain oat flour and cocoa powder add fiber, and the optional chocolate chips make it feel like a real-deal treat. (Seriously, who wouldn’t add chocolate chips?)
If you don’t tell anyone this luscious layer cake is packed with good-for-you ingredients, they’ll think they’re indulging. Plain yogurt and vegetable oil sub for butter, which cuts way down on the saturated fat. Whole wheat flour (or spelt flour) boosts the fiber, and maple syrup provides sweetness. Even the frosting is on the leaner side, thanks to coconut milk instead of butter.
Would you look at how adorable these are? Tart raspberries and dark chocolate pair so wonderfully, and raspberries are a great source of fiber — as are chia seeds. Here, you’re layering chocolate cashew cream with a quick raspberry chia pudding, plus some more fresh berries. Just picture yourself digging a spoon into that beauty.
Bet you thought cheesecake was the poster child for unhealthy desserts. Surprise! Using silken tofu instead of cream cheese gives you that same lush texture for a fraction of the calories, and very little fat. This cheesecake gets its chocolatey flavor from both cocoa powder and chocolate soy milk, while keeping things low calorie — just 110 per serving. Imagine, cheesecake for 110 calories!
Healthy fruit desserts
Building dessert around fruit adds natural sweetness plus fiber and other important nutrients
Frozen bananas have a naturally creamy quality — if you’ve never had one, you won’t want to miss this. Dunk them in homemade “magic shell” made from melted chocolate chips and a little coconut oil, then drizzle with a peanut butter version of the sauce. It’s the easiest popsicle ever.
I love apple pie as much as the next person, but I don’t consider it an everyday food. This simple — and kid-pleasing — platter of sweet nachos, on the other hand, can be on the table every night. It’s nothing more than sliced apples topped with vanilla Greek yogurt, your favorite nut butter, and dark chocolate chips. How easy is that?
Fresh fruit is by far the simplest way to end a meal, but I like to jazz it up a little. A touch of crystallized ginger, honey, and lime add sophistication to oranges, grapes, pineapple, and honeydew. Use store-bought cut fruit and it’s ready in no time.
When I want an elegant way to end a dinner party, I turn to poached pears. Simmer peeled, whole pears in spiced apple juice until they’re tender, and you wind up with soft, yielding fruit infused with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise. Cook down the liquid after you remove the pears, and you’ve got a lovely sauce.
Easy healthy dessert recipes
Whether you’re trying to please a kid who’s clamoring for ice cream or you just need a little something for yourself, get maximum satisfaction for minimal effort
Turning frozen fruit into “ice cream” may be my favorite trick of all time. For years, my now-16-year-old son got excited when I offered him banana ice cream. He had no idea it was nothing more than chunks of frozen banana, whirred in the food processor until creamy. This recipe gets the teeniest bit fancy, offering three flavors: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate.
Taking things up a notch, this recipe also employs the food processor and frozen fruit. Here it’s blueberries along with a smidge of sweetener, lemon juice, and coconut yogurt. After whirring for five minutes you’ve got a creamy, scoopable treat that tastes super-blueberry-y.
You only need a bowl, a wooden spoon, and four ingredients to make these chewy-crisp cookies. I never would’ve thought that almond flour, baking powder, maple syrup, and vanilla extract could make something this delightful — and you’ll be munching away in less than half an hour. Bonus: Because this recipe has no wheat flour or eggs, you can eat the cookie dough raw without fear.
Chocolate bark is almost laughably easy to make: You simply melt some chocolate, spread it in a puddle, sprinkle on some toppings, let it harden, and break into pieces. This bark uses good-for-you dark chocolate plus pistachios (a good source of healthy fat, fiber, and other nutrients) and a sprinkle of fancy salt.
Healthy whole grain desserts
When you’re looking for a healthy dessert recipe, start by seeking out whole grains — it’s a signal that the rest of the ingredients will lean towards the good-for-you
Vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, these berrylicious bars are equally suited for lunchboxes and desserts. The recipe uses rolled oats, baking powder, mashed banana, and a little maple syrup for the crust. As for the blueberry filling, it’s a simple combo of blueberries, maple syrup, and chia seeds, simmered until the berries burst, then left to thicken.
My family loves donuts so much, we’ll travel an hour or more for a primo example — but we save that for an occasional treat, because donuts are fried. Baking them at home, with white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, lets us have our donuts and eat them, too, on the regular.
Rice pudding takes me right back to childhood, when a cup of creamy, raisin-studded, cinnamon-scented deliciousness was a regular treat. Not exactly healthy, though. Swapping in whole grain brown rice helps, as does using evaporated milk instead of cream — you get a similarly thick, rich, texture but with far less saturated fat. The sugar’s on the lean side here, too, but there are still plenty of raisins and a nice sprinkle of cinnamon.
My notoriously picky son won’t go near zucchini, except when it’s baked into something sweet. With whole grain spelt or wheat flour and a generous cup and a half of grated zucchini, this baked up into a loaf reminiscent of banana bread with a soft, almost fluffy texture. And of course, chocolate chips.
Healthy cookie recipes
I would not be a happy person if I had to give up cookies in the name of good health
All through my son’s younger years, this was my emergency recipe for peanut butter cookies. It’s amazing how much chewy, peanutty pleasure you can get from a handful of ingredients (and no flour). Be sure to use natural PB — the kind with added sugar and oil won’t bake up the same. For a fun twist, swap in natural almond butter.
I just can’t get over how incredible these mini-carrot cake cookies taste — or how many nutrients they manage to pack in. Whole wheat flour and rolled oats meet up with shredded carrots and unsweetened coconut, chopped pecans, raisins, and spices, so each bite is filled with flavor. The sweet little glaze on top adds such a nice touch.
These look and taste like the flourless brownie cookies you’ll find in fancy bakeries. But instead of getting their body from several cups of powdered sugar, they rely on a secret weapon: ripe avocado. All that healthy fat combines with a greatly-reduced portion of sugar, some cocoa powder and baking powder, and of course chocolate chips.
Sweetly old-fashioned, these jammy bites have fewer than 50 calories each. That’s achieved by using just a tablespoon and a half of butter and a half-cup of sugar for the whole batch. The recipe calls for elderberry jam, but that’s not the easiest to find. Feel free to use your favorite jam instead.
Looking for more healthy dessert options?
Check out the sweet treats in the articles below. Some of the recipes even disguise veggies in them!