Often when people think of healthy desserts, they picture a plate of uninspiring copycat treats. You know exactly what we’re talking about: imitations of your favorite sweets that spend so much time focusing on cutting calories or carbs, they forget to add any flavor. No matter how many times you put sugar-free frosting on an apple slice and call it a donut, it’s never really going to taste like the glazed donut you actually want.
The thing about these so-called healthy desserts is that they often fail to satisfy your craving. So-called healthy baking recipes that are designed to reduce calories, fat, or sugar often result in final products that look better on camera than they taste or make you feel. The result? A nagging lack of satisfaction that keeps you hungering for the sweetness you’re really after. The truth is that a genuinely healthy and fulfilling treat—one that’s totally delicious to eat and full of nutrients—often looks a lot like what you’re actually craving. (More on how we generally think about healthy eating at SELF below.)
A better approach to making healthy desserts is to focus not on what you can reduce, but what you can add. “There are nutrient-rich ingredients that you can incorporate into baking in a way that doesn’t take away from [the final product], but adds to it and makes it more satisfying,” as Rachael Hartley, R.D., certified intuitive eating counselor and owner of Rachael Hartley Nutrition, has told SELF. For instance: Chocolate chip cookies that look and taste much like the traditional treat, but have a bit more fiber and protein from whole-wheat flour. Or a moist and fluffy cake that also happens to be filled with vitamin-rich sweet potatoes. And lots of your favorites don’t need tweaking at all. Anything that’s packed with fruit, nuts, oats, or eggs, for instance, offers up wholesome nutrition just as it is (though there are always plenty of easy swaps you can make to suit your tastes and dietary needs).
Not to mention, there is also plenty of room for less nutrition-packed ingredients in a healthy diet—like butter or sugar, elements that can be key to achieving the right chemical reaction or perfect texture in recipes. Abbey Sharp, R.D., of Abbey’s Kitchen, previously told SELF she looks at all baking ingredients as tools in your toolkit: “No need to label them good or bad.”
These 50 easy, healthy dessert recipes run the gamut, from the fancy to the simple and everything in between. Most of them are filled with a variety of nuts, seeds, berries, grains, and veggies (!), and can be adapted to fit gluten-free or vegan diets. We also threw in a few that focus more on decadence than nutrition—because that’s just what you need sometimes. As Hartley says, “Sometimes the healthiest thing that you can do is really to eat the thing that you want!”
A note about the word healthy here: We know that healthy is a complicated concept. Not only can it mean different things to different people, but it’s a word that’s pretty loaded (and sometimes fraught), thanks to the diet industry’s influence on the way we think about food. At SELF, when we talk about food being healthy, sure, we’re talking about foods that are nutritious, filling, and satisfying. But we’re also talking about foods that help you connect with your culture, promote joy, and simply taste delicious. Some of those foods might fall into conventional ideas of what “healthy” is. And some might not. We selected these recipes with all of that in mind while also trying to appeal to a wide variety of nutritional needs and taste buds.