Cheat days: A thing of the past.
We’ve all heard of cheat days — excuses to break free from a strict diet and indulge in a favorite food or have dessert.
Although set with good intentions, cheat days may propel you “into a perfectionist mindset and can really derail healthy-eating efforts,” says Amy Gorin, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats, a website that provides plant-based recipes, meal plans and nutrition advice. She’s based in Stamford, Connecticut.
It’s all about balance.
Rather than ignoring your cravings, try incorporating sweets as part of your balanced diet. You might even be surprised with the results. “When people try to severely restrict or completely eliminate sweets, they tend to binge on them later,” says Natalie Rizzo, a registered dietitian based in New York City. Allowing yourself room to enjoy the things you love will foster a healthy, balanced relationship with food that will result in a more sustainable diet over the long term.
Easy treats that won’t ruin your diet.
When sugar cravings hit, there are a few ways to keep yourself from derailing your balanced diet. Try keeping these easy grab-and-go foods on hand:
— Nut- and date-based bars.
— Premade smoothie bowls.
If you’re turning to store-bought sweets, look for products that contain 5 grams of sugar or less per serving, says Jennifer Tyler Lee, a San Francisco-based self-trained home cook and healthy eating advocate and co-author of “Half the Sugar, All the Love: A Family Cookbook.”
But when you have time to bake something, consider the six following homemade desserts to keep you on track with your nutrition goals.
Chocolate Nice Cream
Most store-bought ice cream has upwards of 20 grams of added sugar per serving. Even though the real deal can be incorporated into a balanced diet, swapping it out for nice cream is a healthier alternative for those who want to cut back on added sugar, saturated fat and extra calories.
“This is one of my go-tos because it combines just two ingredients: frozen bananas and unsweetened cocoa powder,” Gorin says. “The mouth feel is really similar to ice cream and is incredibly satisfying.”
Place bananas and cocoa powder in a food processor or high-speed blender. Process or blend until completely smooth, pausing if necessary to push the ingredients toward the bottom of the processor or blender. Serve immediately.
If you want to take it a step further, toss in some extra ingredients. Try blending in your favorite fruit, adding vanilla extract or topping with nuts.
Traditional chocolate truffles are filled with lots of sugar, which can add up if you’re snacking on them all day. Tyler Lee’s variety is just as satisfying — and has 75% less sugar than typical truffles.
— 8 ounces Medjool dates (about 10 dates), pitted.
— 3/4 cup unsweetened peanut butter, almond butter or tahini.
— 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.
— 3 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder.
— 1/4 teaspoon salt.
— 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips.
— 1 tablespoon canola oil.
— 1 tablespoon sanding sugar, sprinkles or fancy salt.
Line a rimmed baking sheet or plate with parchment paper. Place the dates in a food processor and process until they begin to break down into a paste, about one minute. Add the peanut butter and process until the mixture breaks down into crumbles, one minute more. Add the vanilla, cocoa powder and salt, and continue to process until the mixture is combined and cohesive, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed, about one minute more. Portion a heaping tablespoon of dough into your hands and roll it into a ball the size of a large marble, then place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes.
When ready to coat the truffles, remove them from the freezer. Place the chocolate chips in a medium heatproof bowl. Set it over a saucepan with 1 inch of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the canola oil, and whisk until melted and combined. Remove from the heat. Balance a frozen dough ball on the tines of a fork and dip it in the melted chocolate to coat on all sides. Return the truffle to the parchment paper and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Transfer the truffles to the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to fully harden, 30 minutes.
Double Chocolate Brownies
— 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled until fork-tender.
— 1/2 cup unsweetened almond butter or unsweetened walnut butter or unsweetened peanut butter*.
— 1/2 cup coconut oil or unsalted butter (1 stick), melted.
— One large egg plus one large egg yolk.
— 1/4 cup maple syrup.
— 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.
— 3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder.
— 1/2 teaspoon salt.
— 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
— 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips (6 3/4 ounces).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of overhang on each side, and coat with cooking spray. Combine the sweet potatoes, nut butter, coconut oil, egg and egg yolk in a food processor. Process until very smooth, making sure no chunks of sweet potato remain, about 1 minute.
Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the maple syrup and vanilla. Process until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the cocoa powder, salt and baking soda, and process until all the dry ingredients are incorporated, about one minute more. Fold in 1 cup of chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spread it into an even layer and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips. Bake until the top is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 27 to 30 minutes. Let the brownies cool slightly. Cut into 24 bars.
*Unsweetened sunflower seed butter or tahini can be substituted for people with nut allergies.
Edible Cookie Dough
Nostalgic for the days of digging your spoon into a tub of cookie dough? Gorin’s chickpea-based edible cookie dough has an extra hit of protein and fiber that will keep you satiated for longer, meaning you’re less likely to go back for another serving.
— Two 15-ounce cans of no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
— 1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats.
— 1/2 cup unsweetened powdered peanut butter.
— 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
— 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
— 1/2 cup maple syrup.
— 1/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk.
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
— 1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips, divided.
— Cooking spray (optional).
Place all ingredients but chocolate chips into a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to mix ingredients if needed. Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips, and gently mix. Refrigerate mixture for at least 30 minutes. Separate into small bowls, and top with remaining chocolate chips.
Frozen Yogurt Bark
Rizzo isn’t a huge baker, so she likes to stick to treats that are easy to make. She often turns to peanut butter-stuffed dates topped with chocolate or frozen yogurt bark.
— 1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt.
— 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.
— 2 tablespoons maple syrup.
— 1/4 cup sliced strawberries.
— 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips.
In a large bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, cocoa powder and maple syrup, mixing until well combined. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, spread the Greek yogurt mixture with a spatula to create a bark that is about 1/2 inch thick. Top the yogurt mixture with sliced strawberries and chocolate chips. Freeze for at least two hours.
Super Moist Banana Bread
Naturally sweetened with dates, Tyler Lee’s banana bread can help satisfy sugar cravings without spiking blood sugar as much as traditional banana bread. An added bonus: Adding Greek yogurt means this quick bread packs protein, which helps prevent weight regain.
— 10 ounces Medjool dates, pitted (about 10 to 12 dates).
— 3/4 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt.
— Three over ripe medium bananas, mashed (about 1 cup).
— 1 egg plus 1 yolk, beaten.
— 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
— 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
— 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder.
— 1 teaspoon baking soda.
— 1 teaspoon salt.
— 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
— 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.
— 1/3 cup coconut oil or unsalted butter (at room temperature).
— 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on either side, and spray with nonstick cooking spray. If using, add the pecans to a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about five minutes. Set aside to cool.
Place pitted dates in a medium bowl. Cover the dates with 2 cups of hot water. Set aside until the dates are softened, about 10 minutes. Drain the dates, reserving 2 tablespoons of the liquid. In a food processor, combine the dates, reserved liquid, and yogurt. Process until smooth and no flecks of date remain, about two minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and add the mashed bananas, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Set aside.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until the coconut oil combines with the flour into a mealy powder, about 30 seconds. Add the date and banana mixture, and continue mixing until no flour remains. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, top with nuts if using and bake until the bread is lightly browned, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then use the parchment overhang to pull the bread out of the pan. Serve warm. Banana bread will keep wrapped in plastic at room temperature for two to three days.
6 healthy dessert ideas:
— Chocolate Nice Cream.
— Chocolate Truffles.
— Double Chocolate Brownies.
— Edible Cookie Dough.
— Frozen Yogurt Bark.
— Super Moist Banana Bread.
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