10 Desserts Your Nutritionist Actually Approves Of

 by Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN

For most people, the idea of dessert and eating healthy is an oxymoron� after all, decadent desserts are designed to feel a bit naughty. But what if there was a way to �have your cake and eat it too,� so to speak? Well, knowing a few tricks of the treat trade can help.


For most people, the idea of dessert and eating healthy is an oxymoron… after all, decadent desserts are designed to feel a bit naughty. But what if there was a way to "have your cake and eat it too," so to speak? Well, knowing a few tricks of the treat trade can help. Ten registered dietitian nutritionists reveal their go-to dessert choices -- guilt not included.

1. Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

Something with the contrast of sweet and tart can make the perfect dessert. "I love a tart, tangy and pleasingly bitter grapefruit-based dessert, such as a pink grapefruit sorbet surround by fresh pink grapefruit segments and perhaps served with a tiny citrus-scented meringue," says Carolyn O'Neil, MS RDN, author of "The Slim Down South Cookbook." Fresh citrus provides vitamin C, potassium and hundreds of other nutrients. "To make it healthier, make sure the sugar-sweetened sorbet is a 1/2 cup serving surrounded by a cup of fresh grapefruit segments and a tiny meringue," she says. "I'd add nothing else."

Related: 15 Cold Summer Treats Under 200 Calories

2. Dark Chocolate Pulse Pudding

Pulses, which include beans, lentils and peas, can be a secret ingredient when your sweet tooth strikes. "They're chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, plant protein and antioxidants, and very satisfying," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of "Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses - the New Superfood." "They're perfect for thickening a pudding, and beans take on the flavor of what they're combined with, so this trick is a great way to sneak in extra nutrition." To make her dark chocolate pulse pudding, Sass blends soaked dates, chia seeds, white beans (a type of pulse), non-Dutched cocoa powder, honey and pure vanilla extract with unsweetened coconut milk. She then chills it. "I probably eat this about once a week, sometimes chilled, sometimes frozen, like mock ice cream, and sometimes warmed up," adds Sass.

Related Recipes: No-Cook Vegan Dark Chocolate Pudding | Pulse Chocolate-Chip Cookies

3. Vegan Ice Cream

Ice cream is a favorite American dessert, especially in the summertime heat. But how do you not overdo it? "I plan for it and slowly savor a decadent scoop a couple times a month," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of "The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook." One trick to enjoying desserts without overdoing it: Don't bring them in the house. Rather than making it herself, Newgent says she goes to a local, artisanal ice cream parlor and usually picks a vegan ice cream option that's made with cashews, coconut and cocoa butter. "I don't choose it for nutritional benefits, though I absolutely believe it's psychologically healthful to include just-right amounts of your favorite indulgent treats on occasion," she says.

Related Recipe: Strawberry-Basil Ice Cream With Coconut Milk

4. Chocolate-Almond Protein Balls

A perfectly portioned dessert, protein balls can offer a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat. "I love protein balls for a decadent treat, such as chocolate-almond protein balls made with almonds, raisins, chocolate protein powder and shredded coconut," says Misti Gueron, MS, RDN, chief dietitian at the Khalili Center. Although they might taste like a cookie, these quick-to-make treats are packed with energy-boosting nutrition. "It's so easy with a food craving to choose something highly processed and low in protein, but in the end it's just not that satisfying," she says. "These little protein treats are made from real, whole-food ingredients for only about 50 calories."

Related Recipes: 7 Protein Ball Recipes to Give You an Energy Boost

5. Frozen Grapes

If you're craving a frozen dessert, try freezing fruit. "Frozen grapes are my favorite summertime dessert. They're my go-to because they're healthy, incredibly refreshing, simple to prepare, and taste like a creamy grape sorbet," says Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, food and nutrition expert and blogger at CarolineKaufman.com. To freeze, rinse fresh grapes (any color), dry well and freeze in a freezer-safe container. "Even though they taste sweet and creamy, frozen grapes are a one-ingredient, whole-fruit dessert that doesn't have any added sugar," Kaufman says. "They contain antioxidants and polyphenols, which protect our cells and are linked to heart health. They're also hydrating."

Related: Are Grapes a Miracle Fat-Burning Food?

6. Chocolate-Dipped Fruit

Whether you prefer strawberries, peaches, kiwi or mango, there's one thing to pair it with that's sure to please: chocolate. "I often melt a little dark chocolate and use it to dip seasonal fresh fruit, says Ellie Krieger MS RDN, host of "Ellie's Real Good Food" on Public Television and best-selling cookbook author. "It's a luscious treat with health benefits -- fiber and nutrients from the fruit, plus antioxidants from the dark chocolate. It's also low in calories and added sugar." For a pretty and more nutritious option, dip half the fruit in chocolate rather than the whole piece.

Related Recipe: Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Fruit Mini Pops

7. Chewy Nut-Filled Chocolate

Most dietitians say if you enjoy the "real" thing, just eat it less often or in smaller amounts. "I have a huge sweet tooth so I eat dessert every single night after dinner. My strategy to keep from overdoing it is to find the most filling, satisfying sweet in the smallest portion size possible," says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, co-author of "Healthy in a Hurry: Simple, Wholesome Recipes for Every Meal of the Day." The other trick is to choose ingredients you love that are also good for you. "Nuts are slowly digested so they make the chocolate way more filling, and they're chewy so they make the chocolate take longer to eat," she says.

Related Recipe: Chia-Chocolate Pistachio Bark

8. Fruit Cobbler

A favorite in any season, a fruit cobbler is not always deemed the most nutritious choice on the dessert cart… but there are easy ways to lighten it up. "I adore my fruit cobbler. I love that it's easy to prepare and it's so naturally sweet. I bake it regularly -- in any season -- since it pairs perfectly with sweet summer fruits like berries and cherries but also works perfectly with warm apples in fall," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of "Read It Before You Eat It." Unlike pies surrounded by thick dough layers, Taub-Dix's cobbler uses a lighter crust and is loaded with nutrient-packed fruits. "Depending on which fruit you choose to add, you can get an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients," she says.

Related Recipe: Single-Serving Apple Cobbler

9. Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oh the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies… who can resist? And maybe you don't have to. "I love to bake, and find myself more satisfied with delicious, homemade treats instead of the store-bought variety. I'll eat a cookie every night after I make a batch (and, of course, I try to share a few, too!)," says Suzanne Hollander, MS, RDN, LA-based dietitian and nutrition consultant. Rather than a cookie the size of a pancake, the benefit of baking at home is that you have more control over portion size. You can also choose to use high-quality ingredients. "I try to size each cookie to be about 150 calories, so I can satisfy my dessert craving without overdoing it at the end of the evening," says Hollander. "I pack my cookies with nuts, oats and whole grain flour for filling fiber, and I use dark chocolate chips for a delicious antioxidant boost."

Related Recipe: Delicious Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

10. Yogurt Parfait

Popular for breakfast, a yogurt parfait can also satisfy your sweet tooth after dinner. "I enjoy eating a yogurt parfait two or three nights a week for dessert. I layer 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt with one half cup of berries, some cinnamon and a tablespoon of pecans," says Lori Zanini, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "This dessert is perfect for me because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand, and it takes just minutes to prepare. It provides the perfect touch of sweetness from the berries and cinnamon, yet contains enough fiber, protein and healthy fat to satisfy me for the rest of the night."

Related Recipe: Raspberry and Greek Yogurt Parfait

What do YOU Think?

What do you think of this list of nutritionist-approved desserts? Are there any you haven't tried before? What are your favorite healthy desserts? Share with us in the comments section below!


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