A life without pies, cakes, and chocolate-chip cookies is not the sort of life anyone wants to live. On the other hand, sugar doesn’t always make people feel their best—at least once the final crumbs have been polished off—and many find that cutting back can put a spring back in their step. How do you satisfy your sweet tooth without derailing your health? Insist on delicious compromise.
Is vegan dessert healthy?
Vegan or not, most processed desserts are not considered a health food. Traditional desserts—think baked goods, ice cream, pudding, doughnuts, and more—rely on sugar, dairy, and eggs (the latter of which are sources of cholesterol). Even plant-based versions are heavily reliant on sugar and sometimes oil. While these ingredients impart sweetness and help create treats that are moist and tender, both sugar and oil fail to provide significant nutrients.
When enjoyed in moderation, dessert can be part of a healthy, plant-based diet. But if you’re looking for ways to cut back on sugar, oil, and other unhealthy fats, there are a number of alternatives to ensure you satisfy your cravings while maximizing nutrients.
How to make vegan dessert healthier
From exploring natural sweeteners to embracing the gluten-free trend, here are five simple ways to enjoy better-for-you vegan desserts.
1 Use natural sweeteners
Many studies indicate that white sugar is unhealthy because it is stripped of all its natural minerals. When this stripping process occurs, white sugar becomes nothing more than empty calories that spike blood sugar and cause a rollercoaster of insulin resistance, cravings, and crashes. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dessert now and then, because vegan alternatives such as date syrup, agave, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup are available at nearly every grocery store.
While we wouldn’t call these natural syrups a health food, they do tend to be a bit kinder to the body, meaning you may experience all the joys of something sweet without a drastic crash. Instead of swapping one of these natural sweeteners for granulated sugar in one of your go-to recipes, seek out sweets that already call for natural sweeteners, like this decadent chocolate mousse. Alternatively, support vegan brands that don’t use refined sugar, like Giselle’s Vegan Kitchen (yes, they ship nationwide!).
2 Skip the gluten
Less than two percent of the US population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, but the body’s reaction to gluten isn’t black and white. There are ranges of gluten intolerance, and many people are sensitive to this substance. Sure, gluten may not give you awful abdominal pain or make you break out in hives, but if you feel a bit bloated or sluggish after consuming gluten, you may want to consider trying a few gluten-free desserts.
Thankfully, the gluten-free trend is still going strong, and bakers have innovated to the point where you truly cannot tell the difference between a gluten-full and a gluten-free cupcake. Give these vegan- and gluten-free banana cream cupcakes a try or seek out a local vegan-friendly bakery churning out gluten-free options. We personally love Karma Baker and Erin McKenna’s Bakery.
3 Re-think dessert
Dessert doesn’t always have to be a chocolate-chip cookie. Plenty of whole, plant-based foods provide natural sweetness to calm most cravings. For instance, a sticky-sweet roasted sweet potato glazed in maple syrup, frozen cotton candy grapes, and juicy Medjool dates stuffed with nut butter are all worthy of being deemed a sweet treat. For something that feels just a tad more dessert-esque, try this Chocolaty Vegan Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl.
4 Cut down on oil
Oil-free is a big trend in the health space, and for good reason. Oil—whether it’s coconut or canola—is the most calorically dense substance you can eat yet provides no significant amount of nutrients. Most oils are also high in saturated fats, which should always be kept in moderation to avoid excess inflammation and heart disease.
Unfortunately, oil is an integral part of many baked goods—it’s what makes many desserts moist and tender. It’s hard to completely eliminate oil from baked goods, but you can reduce it. Applesauce is a solid replacement, particularly in cakes, brownies, and quick breads. The next time you make your famous banana bread, try swapping half the amount of oil for applesauce. Nut butter also works in recipes that are naturally dense (like that banana bread). Not much into experimenting? Give this tried-and-true oil- and gluten-free hummingbird cake a go.
Big Spoon Roasters
5 Fill up on (healthy) fat
If you eat a diet that is low in fat, it’s more than likely you will struggle with an insatiable sweet tooth. Fat stabilizes blood-sugar levels and prevents the highs and lows following a meal comprised of refined flours and sugars. Healthy fat options that just happen to be vegan include tahini, olive oil, avocados, and nut butter. Almonds or cashews can also be an excellent source of fat and protein that help satisfy your appetite, support a healthy diet, and curb cravings. Here’s a healthy fat and a sweet treat: apples or banana coins slathered in fancy nut butter.
Elliot Caleira is a freelance writer in the self-mastery and health and wellness spaces. When he’s not writing you’ll find him cooking or teaching Portuguese classes.