Healthy Desserts Without Deprivation

It’s that time of year … you can’t take a step without running smack dab into a slice of cake, a plateful of cookies, or a steaming pumpkin latte. Sure, we all love sweets, but sadly—unlike coffee and red meat, which have been getting good press recently—sugar has yet to show its good side.

According to the New York Times, the sugar industry has long suppressed evidence of its negative health effects—but scientists are increasingly bringing them to light. Sugar has been associated with diabetes and heart disease, and shown to negatively affect mood and the brain. Researchers say it’s addictive. We do our best to ignore these health effects, especially around the holidays, but overdosing on confections and baked goods can leave us bloated, cranky, and running on fumes.

Nutritionist John Bagnulo, MPH, PhD, advises avoiding processed foods altogether. But that doesn’t mean depriving yourself of treats.

John says organic, pasture-raised butter and pasture-raised, full-fat yogurt are both on the good list. “These are two of the absolute best superfoods that I recommend for everyday meals and specifically for holiday eating,” says John. “Both offer the body vitamin K2, which is shown to greatly protect against heart disease, support the immune system, and improve bone health and the bone-building process.” Yogurt is a nutritional powerhouse, offering protein, healthful fats, and probiotics that keep our intestinal flora and fauna balanced.

Butter can be tough for some to swallow (pardon the pun), but John is a proponent. “Butter can be a leap of faith for people, but I have become a firm believer in its virtues and health benefits,” he says. “Always substitute butter for vegetable oils or seed oils such as canola, soybean, corn, etc. Try adding butter to a warm berry compote in place of sugar, and you will not be disappointed.”

Antioxidant-rich berries and fruits—including raspberries, blueberries, pears, apples, and coconut—are great go-to ingredients. Combine raspberries, shredded coconut, and yogurt for a healthy and satisfying treat. Or sprinkle sliced pears or apples—baked or raw—with organic cinnamon. Try our favorite recipe for baked apples.

Another sweet snack that packs nutritional punch: Kripalu Almond Date Balls. The dates provide calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and the almonds offer protein, healthy fats, and fiber. The cardamom in the recipe aids digestion and has been found to lower blood pressure.

Kripalu presenter Leslie Cerier, known as "the organic gourmet," says that coconut and cocoa, both featured ingredients in her gluten-free recipe for Hazelnut Brownies with Chocolate Chips, are two of the most nutritious superfoods. “Coconut flour has a low glycemic index, and combined with hazelnut flour and brown rice flour in this recipe, it has a lower glycemic index than your typical white flour, white sugar brownie,” she says. John  adds, “High quality cacao or cocoa powder can add much in the way of polyphenols—potent antioxidants—that may also be really good for the GI tract. Adding one of these to higher-fat ingredients, such as butter or heavy cream, can greatly reduce how much sweetener is needed.”

Kate O’Donnell, author of The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook: A Seasonal Guide to Eating and Living Well, says her Almond Joy and Ginger Cookies are her healthy holiday standby. “I always bring a treat with me to a gathering, so I can enjoy something without white sugar and flour,” she says.

No matter what you savor during this festive time, be sure to infuse the treats you make with loving intention, and remember to be compassionate with yourself!

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