Healthy Desserts—Fact or Myth?
Can desserts really be healthy or is it just an oxymoron? Many people who are watching what they eat often put all desserts off-limits. They just drool at confectionery in a bakery window but never actually eat them. This can lead to self-pity and low self-esteem or even binge eating when you let the cravings snowball into one day when you eat the entire chocolate pie and hate yourself.
Indulging in a little something sweet occasionally can actually be good for you. It lets you be a part of the celebration at parties and prevents you from always feeling sorry for yourself by saying no. If you choose healthier dessert options and practice portion control, desserts need not be a bad word in your diet dictionary.
There are a few ways to approach healthy desserts and adopting a combination of all of them can bring variety to your menu and lead you to feel satisfied.
Try to stick to as natural a dessert as possible. This means opting for fresh fruit and even sweet vegetables like squash and carrots to satisfy a craving. When you make desserts, look for recipes that use few, if any, processed ingredients. If you are buying a dessert, read the label to see how many chemicals and fillers they might have added for the volume, vibrant colors or extra sweetness.
Chef Rubina Hafeez has her own bakery, Gur Sweets, in Elmhurst, Illinois. She uses all natural fresh fruit bases and no preservatives. She uses whole milk, unbleached flour and no fillers. This leads to a shorter shelf life for her products, but it’s a small tradeoff for the freshness and healthier desserts she whips up every day. Instead of high fructose corn syrup, she uses raw cane sugar to stay as natural as possible. For diabetics she uses agave nectar which is low on the glycemic index. She also offers gluten-free, eggless and vegan desserts upon request.
She enjoys creating fusion desserts where she can couple her professional pastry chef training with ethnic flavors and requests such as her pina colada desserts and a hot rod which includes a kick of pepper. Whatever is left over is donated to local shelters.
“I believe there is a need to educate the Muslim consumer that it’s not only meat that you have to worry about being zabihah halal,” Hafeez said. “Lots of bakeries and chain stores use animal byproducts, chemicals and alcohol in their ingredients. Many don’t even know about it as they purchase pre-made mixes.”
You might have your hands on a fabulous recipe but if you see the calorie and fat per serving, it might throw off your entire daily nutritional balance. In such instances, home baker, Sheeba Khurram of Mrs. Cay’s Cupcakes (www.facebook.com/MrsCays) in Glendale Heights, Illinois, substitutes ingredients with healthier alternatives. For instance, she uses unsweetened apple sauce and mashed bananas in her desserts in place of sugar to cater to a more health conscious clientele. She even finds apricot and pear sauces at stores like Whole Foods to add a different flavor to her desserts. Similarly, she makes an unsweetened base in fruit tarts and uses brown sugar instead of white sugar where possible.
“Honey is also a possible substitute, and a Sunnah,” Khurram says. “Similarly, whole grain flour has more fiber and is healthier for you. You just need to develop the taste — like brown rice, it grows on you.”
Dalia Hassabala, a certified holistic health coach (www.dillyhealthcoaching.com) gives workshops across Chicagoland about how to beat the sugar blues and nutritious eating.
“When the body craves something and needs energy, we should give it what it wants, but try for the most natural solution,” Hassaballa said. “We need to get our body used to natural sugar such as fruits, carrots and plant based sources.”
Personally, she rarely eats desserts and when she does, she chooses fruits because she asks herself why do I want to have this sugar-loaded concoction and what will it do to my body?
She is a firm advocate of learning more about healthy eating as knowledge provides power to make good choices. Coupled with will power, eating right becomes natural and something to be proud of instead of feeling sorry for yourself.
She buys almonds in bulk and grinds them into flour for pancakes and other recipes. When she needs to add some sweetness, she prefers naturally occurring sugars like organic maple syrup or dates.
“Do not deprive kids of desserts as we are not with them all the time,” Hassaballa said. “Instead make healthy foods with them. When they are involved in the preparation, they are more likely to be pleased with the outcome.”
If we empower ourselves with the knowledge instead of just saying no it will be easier to accept no when we hear it. If you realize how the spike in blood sugar will eventually lead you to crash, you will be encouraged to make wiser choices like a sliver of cake on a special occasion.
Experts agree that desserts need not be taboo. We just need to learn how to make wiser choices as a service to our body and to set a good example for our family.
Kiran Ansari is a writer and entrepreneur who lives with her family in the suburbs of Chicago.