The dessert tables at this year’s holiday celebrations will offer no shortage of sugary treats. And when you catch sight of the first sugar cookie, it can be easy to toss all of those healthy eating pledges to the wind. But—not so fast!
“Desserts are a high-calorie culprit and can often be a significant source of sugar and fat, but there are healthy options. It’s all about knowing what to look for, and what the healthiest options are,” explains Ashley McCorkle, MS, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian for the Diabetes Prevention Program at Main Line Health King of Prussia.
Instead of throwing caution (and calories) to the wind, try one of these five healthier options for holiday desserts.
1. Pumpkin pie
Unlike virtually every other pumpkin-flavored treat this season (think pumpkin-spiced lattes, pumpkin cheesecake muffins, and pumpkin scones), pumpkin pie is a relatively healthy dessert choice. To maximize the health benefits, skip store-bought pumpkin pie mix in favor of real pumpkin filling, which offers nutritional benefits like Vitamins A and C, iron, and potassium.
One of the other reasons pumpkin pie is such a healthy choice? It’s often served without toppings, while its calorie-heavy cousins like pecan pie are decorated with sugary toppings. Keep calories at a minimum by keeping yours topping-free and leaving your crust on the plate.
Cookies might get all the attention this season, but biscotti are a much healthier option. At about 100-200 calories per piece, these snacks take a little longer to nosh on than a traditional cookie, which should help you feel fuller more quickly, too.
Skip the chocolate-dipped versions and opt for almond or fruit-filled flavors for minimal calories. McCorkle recommends Double Chocolate Biscotti with Almonds, with only 38 calories per piece.
3. Angel food cake
Fat-free and low in calories, angel food cake is the perfect alternative for those who may not be willing to give up the big slice of cake they enjoy after a holiday meal. Sprinkle yours with cinnamon or powdered sugar or top it with fresh fruit and light whipped topping for added flavor and minimal calories.
4. Gingerbread cookies
This year go back to basics. Instead of dipped, truffled, or stuffed cookies, whip up a batch of gingerbread cookies. Gingerbread cookie recipes typically use honey or molasses for their sweet flavor, which may be better alternatives to sugar. And, like most desserts on this list, these cookies have minimal or no toppings, which can keep calories at a minimum.
A word of warning to shoppers: Don’t be fooled by their grocery store counterparts—ginger snap cookies aren’t the same. They contain more sugar and aren’t as healthy as gingerbread cookies.
5. Chocolate mousse
Chocolate cheesecakes and layer cakes may be tempting but, this year, opt for chocolate mousse—a healthier option that will deliver the same rich, chocolate taste. While you can use traditional ingredients for a chocolate mousse, like heavy cream, eggs, and bittersweet chocolate, it’s easy to make healthy substitutions for these ingredients, too. Many chocolate mousse recipes can be made using heart-healthy ingredients like avocado, Greek yogurt, and cacao powder.
To further control your calories, try a pre-portioned approach. Divide your chocolate mousse mixture among small serving bowls and top with powdered sugar.
While these options are all some of the healthier choices on the dessert table this season, McCorkle reminds snackers that options like fruit are always a healthy option, too.
Main Line Health offers nutrition experts that are registered, licensed dietitians. As members of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they stay up to date on the latest nutrition research that may have an impact on your health and well-being and can offer an individual nutrition plan to fit your lifestyle.