Nothing gets the blood pumping like impending excitement for dessert. But if you’re taking steps to create a heart-healthy diet, dessert might not be the first thing on your mind when figuring out how best to approach the foods you’re eating. Often, it’s easier to focus on the big meals and splurge a little bit on the sweet stuff or skip the sweets altogether.
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But just because you’ve put in the work to keep your heart healthy and strong doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice dessert completely. In fact, you can tailor your desserts to follow the same heart-healthy rules as your other meals without compromising on the fun.
Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, explains what goes in to making a heart-healthy dessert, along with 10 heart-healthy recipes you can try right now.
What makes a dessert ‘heart-healthy’?
The best desserts are sweet, but you don’t have to add a bunch of sugar to make a decadent one. Fruits contain natural sugars, but they also carry a ton of other nutrients like potassium and fiber that are good for you and your heart. That makes fruit like berries, bananas, oranges, apples and cherries ripe for the picking when trying to decide which heart-healthy ingredients to work into your dessert plans.
Other heart-healthy ingredients include nuts, whole grains, oats and even dark chocolate. Not only will these powerhouse foods fill you up, but with their powers combined, you’ll also have all the great makings of a tasty dessert when you’re craving that something sweet.
“Desserts can often get a bad rap when it comes to heart health because most store-bought desserts are loaded with processed sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat or even trans fat like vegetable shortening,” notes Zumpano.
“These ingredients can be troubling to your heart. If you choose instead to have homemade desserts and prepare them with healthy ingredients, they can actually promote heart health.”
Recipes to try
The following 10 recipes can be incorporated into a heart-healthy diet to help your goals of reducing cholesterol, lowering your blood sugars and decreasing your blood pressure.
Bananas are high in potassium and easy to digest, but they also carry other health benefits, too. When paired with Greek yogurt, this dessert is packed with protein but has zero saturated fat for a creamy, sweet finish.
Chocolate bark with espresso and toasted nuts
Who doesn’t love a low-cal dessert that goes hard on dark chocolate? High in cocoa but low in sugar, this chocolate bark recipe carries its own weight in toasted walnuts, pecans and almonds, which are all nuts that promote health benefits for your heart.
Dark chocolate frozen banana bites
This is perhaps a perfect blend of ingredients from the first two recipes on this list. Using dark chocolate with 70% cocoa, these sweet treats pack a midday energetic punch. For extra protein, you can roll each chocolate-covered banana in assorted nuts.
Winter fruit gratin
Baked to perfection, this assorted fruit dish using pears, apples and cranberries blended with whole-wheat flour and oats could help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
This one might seem a bit out of left field, but hear us out: You can fill these buckwheat crepes with fruit, a natural nut butter or dark chocolate, or just eat them on their own with a little bit of raw honey. Buckwheat flour is also a good source of dietary fiber that can help improve blood cholesterol and lower your risk for heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
Caramelized pineapple with raspberries
Pineapple is an excellent fruit du jour because it has anti-inflammatory properties and contains several nutrients, including vitamins B and C, manganese, fiber and other minerals. This recipe offers up grilled, caramelized pineapple covered in a subtly sweet sauce, made even better with assorted raspberries.
Raspberry banana sorbet
This will be sure to cool you off as the weather gets warmer. Instead of opting for ice cream, this fat-free sorbet provides a good source of potassium, fiber and antioxidants, and it has no added sugars. You can top it with some chopped nuts, unsweetened coconut flakes or dark chocolate shavings for some crunch.
Chia seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, iron and calcium. When you soak them in milk and pair them with other heart-healthy ingredients like cocoa, almond extract or raspberries, you’ve got a versatile pudding that you can play with in several different ways.
Dark chocolate and cherry brownies
This is one dessert that goes back to basics: dark chocolate and cherries. Cherries are a rich source of antioxidants and potassium, making them a prime heart-healthy ingredient in this thick, decadent brownie recipe.
Cottage cheese pancakes with maple syrup-sweetened berries
You’ve heard of breakfast for dinner, but why not dessert? These protein-packed pancakes incorporate eggs, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract and cottage cheese into the batter before it’s cooked, and then topped with maple syrup-soaked assorted berries for a dessert that’s so deliciously sweet, you’ll second guess its heart-healthy qualities.