Growing up, dessert for our family was canned fruit cocktail. My goal was to be lucky enough to get at least a small piece of cherry and a minimal amount of pears. Everything else in the mix was fine, though I remember the grapes looking a bit anemic. Other desserts in the weekday rotation consisted of all the other canned fruits on the market, strawberry Jell-o with bananas, and on rare occasions, a baked good.
Looking back, though assorted canned fruits seemed to be a healthy choice, they are not ideal when seeking healthy options. Many canned fruits are laden with heavy syrup, increasing the sugar content. Even the light varieties contain added sugar.
Jell-o is high in sugar, low in fiber and protein.
Still, Mom was doing her best to keep me from overdoing the treats. If you enjoy canned fruit and Jell-o, simply understand what you’re eating and what you’re not. The nutrition and ingredient labels tell the story.
There are ways to maintain healthy habits and enjoy dessert after dinner. The key is to expand your thoughts about dessert and understand what “healthier” looks like.
Anytime you can reduce the amount of added sugar in your day, the better. According to the American Heart Association, these are the maximum amounts of added sugars to be consumed in a day:
- Men, 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons
- Women, 25 grams or 6 teaspoons
Added sugars are those that are not naturally found in food. For example, an apple contains natural sugar. Foods such as cookies, soft drinks, and dry cereals, contain added sugars, which offer no nutritional value.
Desserts that have low or no added sugars, contain fiber, perhaps some protein, and good fat, are ideal.
Fresh fruit is a great option, plain or accessorized. Top fruit with a dollop of coconut whipped topping. I like So Delicious Dairy Free CocoWhip. Make an extra delicious fruit salad by adding flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add basil olive oil and strawberry vinegar to a mixed fruit salad. Add some chopped nuts and fresh mint, if you like. The olive oil adds good fat. Nuts add fat, fiber, and protein.
Another fresh fruit idea: Slice pears and/or apples and arrange on a serving plate. Drizzle with melted dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa. Or, arrange a fruit platter with your favorites and add nuts and squares of dark chocolate.
Anything you bake from scratch will be healthier than something packaged, because you don’t add preservatives and chemicals. You are can control making it dairy free, gluten free, vegan, or the amount of sugar. Keep in mind when altering a recipe that most ingredients must be present in certain quantities for it to work.
I found that you can reduce the amount of sugar in a cake recipe by at least 10% and not compromise flavor or texture. Remove 5 teaspoons from each cup of sugar called for in the recipe. If you’re happy with the result, reduce it a bit more the next time.
Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of pure maple syrup, grilled or baked fruit with cream, chocolate mousse made with coconut milk, cacao powder and honey all delight the taste buds and a considered a healthy dessert. Making your favorite pumpkin pie as a pudding, without the crust, is also a healthier and simpler alternative.
When eyeing the dessert table, choose pumpkin pie over pecan, the plain cookie over the iced one, dark chocolate over milk, a muffin over a frosted cupcake, fresh fruit over Jell-o with bananas.
Remember that everything counts, even if it seems small.
Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.