Enjoy Dessert Without all the Calories

Photography by Salvatore Brancifort

Who doesn't love finishing off a meal with a decadent slice of cheesecake or a chewy fudge brownie? But no matter how much running one does, luxuriating in too many desserts can ensure the needle on the scale moves in the wrong direction.That's because desserts often deliver a load of calories with little nutritional value.

Thankfully, with a few simple recipe tweaks, you can still rouse your taste buds without blowing your diet. Here's how to turn those chocolate chip cookies into less of a nutritional villain.

If a dessert recipe calls for all-purpose flour, generally a nutritional dud, try a 50:50 blend of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. The benefit of adding whole-grain our is extra fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that runners need, says dietitian Alyse Levine, nutrition advisor at Livestrong.com and founder of NutritionBite.

Or consider replacing all-purpose white flour in muffins, brownies, cakes and cookies with whole-wheat pastry our. Milled from soft wheat, whole-wheat pastry our will produce a tender product that is not too heavy, an objection some people have to regular whole-wheat our, says Chef Elliott Prag, instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York.

From rice and teff, to quinoa, amaranth, bean and curious hemp, specialty fours are becoming more popular in kitchens across the country. "Using a greater assortment of flours exposes your palate to new flavors and your body to a wider range of nutrients," Levine says.

Replace about a quarter of the wheat flour that a recipe calls for with specialty flour such as chia, almond or quinoa and see if you like the results. Bob's Red Mill (bobsredmill.com) is a good source for a wide assortment of alternative flours.

Many dessert recipes call for more sugar than necessary, which can send your blood sugar on a Rocky Mountain high and mask other flavors in the item. "If a recipe recommends 1 cup of a sweetener, such as sugar or maple syrup, you can try cutting this by 25 percent and you may not miss it," notes Prag.

Citrus zest such as orange and lemon can provide a hint of calorie-free natural sweetness. Often less processed sugars such as palm, Sucanat, date and turbinado offer a better nutritional profile than heavily processed granulated white and brown versions. For a wide assortment of smart sugar options visit wholesomesweeteners.com.

Crammed with beneficial fats and a wide assortment of vitamins and minerals, Levine says crunchy nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pistachios and pecans, should be worked into more desserts, even if it is just sprinkling them onto frozen yogurt. A 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which examined data from 25 different studies that looked at nut consumption, found that eating an average of 2.4 ounces of nuts daily can significantly improve cholesterol levels.

Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice are all wonderful warming spices that can make a dessert pop in your mouth for zero calories. And when working with chocolate, try adding a pinch of cayenne or chili for a little kick. "As a bonus, many of these spices are packed with antioxidants that can help shield your body from oxidative damage," Levine says.

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