There’s nothing wrong with relishing the most decadent, oozy, rich dessert of your dreams, in all its sugar-laden glory. Just eat them in moderation and alongside a nutrient-rich diet. Sounds reasonable, right?
But for those of us who enjoy a daily dessert, it might be a good idea to find some lighter ingredient swaps to make it easier to eat on the regular. Let’s talk about some more nutrient-dense treat ideas using some of our favorite dessert ingredient swaps.
A dessert ingredient swap note about restriction
“I don’t like restrictions. For me, that makes me want it more,” Galla says. “If I know it’s doing something beneficial, then it helps me. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, and I’m getting all these nutritional benefits.”
Try to focus on adding nutrients instead of removing things that you love and that add satisfaction. For instance, Galla keeps a jar of ground seeds — pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, chia, or flax — to throw into her baked goods or oatmeal to amp up the nutrition.
These are some of our favorite ingredient swaps in desserts to amp up the nutrition even when you’re having something sweet.
1. Use 70 percent or higher dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
The percentage refers to how much cacao is in the chocolate. Cacao’s iron, magnesium, and calcium nutrients are why chocolate can be beneficial. The lower the percentage, the higher the amount of sugar.
Dark chocolate also beats out white chocolate due to some missing antioxidant benefits. White chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids, which gives milk and dark chocolate those added benefits. You can also choose cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips for an even lower sugar option.
2. Use the water from a can of chickpeas to make an eggless meringue
If you want to avoid eggs (though they have lots of health benefits), you can still have the cloud-like fluffiness they provide, thanks to bean liquid, also known as aquafaba. Here’s a recipe for a simple meringue:
- 2 cups whipped garbanzo (that other name for chickpeas) bean liquid
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whip together all of the ingredients until stiff peaks form. Use the meringue as you would normally in any meringue dessert, or just top a spice cake with it. Delish.
3. Use fruit, especially dates and bananas, instead of refined sugar
Using fruit as a sweetener can add some micronutrients to the recipe. Try soaking some dried dates and then pureeing them into a rich caramel-like paste. The fruit is quite sugary naturally, but you’re also getting more fiber and nutrients like potassium.
You can skip sugar or honey in a smoothie or dairy-free ice cream if you’ve got a frozen banana on hand for more added nutrients. Keep a few of those, already peeled, in the freezer for a quick dessert fix.
4. Substitute white all-purpose flour for other flours
In some dishes, you can use whole-wheat flour at a 1-to-1 ratio, but with pastry, it’s better to use less whole-wheat pastry flour because it’s so heavy and doesn’t flake. Usually, swapping about 1/3 to 1/2 of the white flour for whole-wheat flour is a good idea. Then you get more fiber and nutrients.
You can also get more protein and other nutrients when you use other kinds of alternative flours, made from beans, oats, quinoa, amaranth, and more. (See our beginner’s guide to gluten-free flours.)
5. Try unsweetened applesauce instead of oil in baking
And sometimes in place of a bit of egg and sugar. You will want to reduce the liquid in the rest of the recipe, if there is any, because of the liquid in the applesauce.
6. Swap Greek yogurt for butter
Some recipes can utilize plain Greek yogurt in place of butter, though the ratio is up for debate. It’s often a 1-to-1 ratio, up to 1 cup. You need the yogurt to be Greek, though, because of its thickness.
Greek yogurt is an amazing source of protein and will give your recipe some added creaminess.
7. Try coconut cream instead of heavy cream
Just refrigerate your can of regular coconut milk and then scoop off the heavy coconut cream that solidifies on top. Whip it with an electric mixer for a few minutes, the same way you would heavy dairy cream.
8. Use beans instead of flour
Take beans from a can, rinse them, and puree them. We recommend following a recipe for the ratio swap. Here’s a video how-to:
See how you can incorporate our recommended swaps in these more nutrient-dense dessert options.
Flourless chocolate chip chickpea blondies
These moist blondies won’t look done when you take them out of the oven, but resist overbaking them. You definitely don’t want dried-out blondies.
This rich, creamy, chocolaty dessert has so many good swaps. It uses almond milk instead of dairy milk for vegan-friendliness, dark chocolate instead of semisweet or milk chocolate, and whipped coconut cream instead of whipped heavy cream. Oh, and of course, there are mashed avocados to make it fluffy and silky without any dairy, if you’re avoiding it.
Snag this dark chocolate avocado mousse recipe.
High protein rocky road blender ice cream with aquafaba fluff
This “nice cream” is made with frozen bananas and cocoa powder, all in your blender. The vegan aquafaba fluff is a magical marshmallow alternative to cap it off.
Learn how to make this rocky road ice cream with aquafaba fluff recipe.
Chocolate cherry thumbprint cookies
Like their traditional cousin, these cookies are usually easy to make. You just need a good food processor or blender to pulse the almonds and oats, which then are mixed with spelt flour. There’s coconut oil instead of butter or other oils. Maple syrup and fruit-sweetened cherry jam lend their nonrefined sugars. You don’t have to use cherry, either. Go with your jam of choice.
Apple, pear, and golden beet turnovers
Pie lovers, rejoice. Eat them in your hand with this recipe, which does have a tad more than 1/4 cup cane sugar, 1 cup white flour, and 7 tablespoons butter. But there’s so much more nutrition added to it, from the 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour to the 1/2 cup golden beets.
Lighter chocolate chip cookies
This may become your go-to treat when you have a cookie craving. It has many swaps in one, from applesauce and Greek yogurt to honey and whole-wheat pastry flour. There is no sugar, egg, butter, or white flour in this recipe at all — and you also get oats.
Get these lighter chocolate chip cookies.
Dessert is a staple in our eating plans, so adding just a wee bit more nutrition is a good way to make a daily dessert ritual beneficial. Plus, you’ll always eat better when you’re not overly restricting and denying yourself satisfaction when eating.
Give these swaps a try during your weekly meal prep sesh.