A sweet tooth is meant to be satisfied—yes, even if you’re watching your weight. Dessert, after all, is one of life’s pleasures, and deprivation typically backfires. It doesn’t have to be a high-calorie, high-fat disaster, either: The trick is making smart choices and substitutions. “Take advantage of foods that are naturally sweet and simply delicious,” says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. Steer clear of fatty ingredients like creamy whipped topping or butter, and stick with fresh fruit and low-fat choices. Here are 10 desserts that are as healthy as they are tasty:
1. Grilled fruit. Try throwing pineapple, banana, apple, or pear slices on the grill. “There’s nothing healthier than sticking with fresh fruit, and on the grill, it becomes even sweeter,” Gans says. Grilling concentrates flavor by reducing water content, while also caramelizing the fruit’s natural sugars. One serving of grilled pineapple usually provides around 80 calories.
2. Dark chocolate “bark”. Melt dark chocolate and spread it on parchment paper. Sprinkle in healthy ingredients like tart cherries or sunflower seeds, suggests registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. Refrigerate it for five minutes before breaking it into small pieces. “It’s a healthy option because dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate,” says Jackson Blatner. “And it contains more cocoa, which may make it heart-smart.” One piece of “bark” should come in at less than 100 calories.
3. Ricotta and berries. Blend 1 cup of mixed berries with ¼ cup of low-fat ricotta. “If you’re in the mood for ice cream, this can do the trick,” Gans says. “It’s creamy, sweet, and low in calories.” One serving provides between 150 and 200 calories.
4. Healthy apple “pie.” Bake an apple, cut in half, until soft. Top it with 2 tablespoons of low-fat Greek yogurt, a dash of cinnamon, and crumbs from one crushed graham cracker. Expect to spend about 150 calories.
5. Biscotti. “If you can stick with one, it’s a great low-calorie cookie,” says Gans; the smaller ones should only set you back about 70 calories. Liven things up with, say, an almond-apricot version, or even honey pistachio.
6. Greek yogurt berry brûlée. Spread plain, nonfat Greek yogurt over fresh berries in a small serving bowl. Sprinkle on a teaspoon of sugar, and use a culinary torch to burn the sugar for a minute or two, until it’s golden. Not only is this treat tasty, but the yogurt is packed with protein, and there’s lots of vitamin C and calcium, too. Calories: around 175.
7. Banana “ice cream” with cinnamon and walnuts. Purée frozen banana chunks with a splash of almond milk, creating a treat with a creamy, ice cream-like texture. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and cinnamon on top. (Cinnamon is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects, and may help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels.) This dessert is a “perfect sub” for ice cream, says Jackson Blatner. “It has less calories, no fat, no added sugar, and potassium and fiber from the banana.” Calories should add up to around 200 to 230.
8. Chocolate chia and almond bites. Use a food processor to purée pitted dates and water until a sticky paste forms. Add in cocoa powder, almonds, and chia seeds to create a solid dough. Shape the mixture into tablespoon-balls, and then refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. The dates make the dessert sweet, and the almonds and chia seeds provide healthy fats—along with texture and crunch. Calories: 160.
9. Mini ice-cream sandwiches. Put a small scoop of light vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt between two vanilla wafers. Roll the sandwich in finely chopped dark or bittersweet chocolate so that it sticks to the ice cream. Each sandwich should cost about 200 calories.
10. Dark chocolate-dipped fruit. Microwave a dark chocolate bar until it’s almost melted, and then dip in the fruit of your choice—be it strawberries, mango, papaya, apricot, or banana. “It’s a nourishing and filling option, since fruit is loaded with fiber and water,” says Jackson Blatner. Antioxidants in cocoa are thought to boost the flexibility of blood vessels and lower blood pressure; since dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa than milk chocolate, it contains more of these helpful compounds. Calories in a single chocolate-covered strawberry: around 80.