Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 03, 2020
Berries and Cream
It’s a classic combo. Berries are sweet, juicy, and low in calories. They also have many heart-healthy nutrients, like antioxidants and fiber. Dress a cup of them up with a dollop of whipped cream or low-fat sour cream -- it adds 20 to 50 calories, but little to no sugar.
Frozen Fruit Bars
Some store-bought brands offer low-calorie, lower-sugar options. Or make your own to avoid, or at least limit, added sugars. Look for recipes that use more fruit than juice. That way, you’ll still get some fiber and other nutrients in your sweet treat.
Enjoying an ounce a few times a week is not as bad for your diet as you might think. It has less sugar and more cocoa than milk chocolate. That means fewer calories, but more nutrients like flavonoids. For the most benefit, look for cocoa content of 70% or more, but keep in mind that caffeine content goes up with the cocoa, too.
It can feel as indulgent as an ice cream sundae, with less added sugar, more fiber, and plenty of nutrients. Start with plain yogurt, which has far less sugar than flavored types. Top it with fresh berries and a few nuts. A bit of granola is OK, too. Just watch the portion size -- 1 cup is a serving of yogurt, but you may opt for less if you’re having it after a meal.
Oat Apple Crisp
In the mood for apple pie? This warm, gooey treat could hit the spot. Look for recipes that use more oats, nuts, and fruit, and less white flour, sugar, and butter. Baking the apples brings out their natural sweetness. Oats and nuts add fiber and healthy fats.
Fruit and Cheese
Try it instead of that double-fudge brownie sugar bomb on the menu. Fresh or dried, fruit’s sweetness pairs well with the satisfying creaminess of the cheese. Try brie, goat cheese, or cheddar with dates, figs, or apples. Don’t take your eyes off the portion size, though -- one serving is an ounce and a half of cheese, about the size of 4 dice.
Chocolate-Covered Frozen Bananas
This dessert looks fancy and indulgent, but it’s pretty simple to make and not that bad for your diet. Freeze some banana slices and melt some dark chocolate. Roll the bananas in the chocolate, and sprinkle some nuts on top if you want. Then put them back in the freezer until you’re ready to eat. Enjoy two or three slices (about 70 calories) at a time.
Many store-bought ones aren’t much better than candy bars, so read the nutrition label. Look for natural ingredients and low added sugar, which some bars list as honey, corn syrup, or brown rice syrup, among other things. A well-balanced bar also should have 3 grams of fiber, 3 to 6 grams of protein, and around 175 calories. But this should be from nuts and fruit, not from “soy isolates,” “chicory root,” or other processed ingredients.
To poach something is to simmer it gently in some liquid. You can do pears in lemon water, apple juice, red wine, and many other liquids. It’s a simple but elegant, healthy dessert -- one poached pear can have around 100 calories. Serve a bit of the poaching liquid with each peeled and cooked pear. A touch of cream or creme fraiche might be just the right topping, but you can skip it if you’re watching fat or calories.
Packaged versions aren’t so innocent -- they can have up to 17 grams of sugar per 2-cup serving. But a cup of plain, air-popped corn has no sugar and only about 35 calories. You can control calories and fat if you sprinkle your own mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Don’t forget this delicious old-school treat. You can limit fat and sugar by making it yourself with skim or low-fat milk and cocoa powder.
Frozen Yogurt Bars
Brands vary, but it’s possible to get that creamy, sweet goodness for just 80 calories per bar. Bonus: they can have a decent dose of protein, too. There are loads of different flavors and toppings. Just make sure to check the label for calories, fat, and added sugar.
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American Academy of Dietetics: “Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce Recipe.”
American Heart Association: “What is a serving?”
ChooseMyPlate: “All About the Dairy Group.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Heart Healthy Benefits of Chocolate.”
Consumer Reports: “Best Energy Bars: Crunchy, Chewy, Tasty ... and Healthy, Too?”
Diabetes Forecast: “Simple and Elegant Poached Pears.”
Fruits and Veggies More Matters: “Fruit and Vegetable Variety,” “Key Nutrients in Fruits and Vegetables,” “The Everyday Chef: Frozen Chocolate Banana Coins.”
Go Red for Women: “Health Benefits of Blueberries.”
Harvard School of Public Health: “Dark Chocolate.”
Mayo Clinic: “Healthy Recipes: Poached pears.”
USDA Agricultural Research Service.
USDA Mixing Bowl: “Whole Grain Fruit Crisp,” “Apple Pistachio Crisp,” “Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles,” “Frozen Fruit Pops.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.”
World’s Healthiest Foods: “How do the healthy fats in nuts and seeds help protect against cardiovascular disease?” “How does fruit juice compare to whole fruit?”