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7 Steps to Making Healthy Desserts

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There was once a commercial where it was a boy's birthday and the mom was such a health nut that instead of a birthday cake she served him a beautiful birthday cauliflower with candles in it. While I'm not that bad, I do prefer to bake my own healthy birthday cakes than buying one from the store, as it's impossible to find one that is half decent. Once I tried to find a black forest cake for my brother's birthday made with real whipped cream and I had to go to about six stores before I found one.

I love baking. I have some amazing recipes that I still love to make (lemon squares are a favorite). The trouble I found was that when I started to review my old recipes, I didn't like a lot of the ingredients. What I realized, though, was that I could still make great healthy desserts by substituting some healthier ingredients. There are lots of easy substitutions with things that are new staples in my cupboard.

Changing some of the ingredients may alter the taste or texture of the dessert, so you will need to experiment. I once tried to make my lemon squares with whole-wheat flour for the bottom crust and it didn't taste as good, so I varied the ratio of white flour to whole wheat flour until I found the right balance.

Here are seven things you can change in your favourite recipes... and then you will be baking healthy desserts!

1. Choose organic ingredients.

Organic milk, eggs, flours etc. When you choose certified organic products, you will know that it is more natural, as organic foods are not allowed to contain genetically-modified ingredients. Genetically modified ingredients contain organisms whose genetic DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination.

According to the article, "Lack of GMO Labeling Turns Canadians Towards Organic Foods,"
by Neville Judd, consumers, environmentalists and some scientists worry about risks to human health and the environment. Among their concerns are that GM crops that rely upon high amounts of pesticides and fertilizers could cause toxic or allergenic effects and large-scale elimination of indigenous agricultural and natural species.

2. Change the flour.

There are so many different types of flour available, including whole-wheat flour, spelt flour, bean flour, rice flour, potato flour, hemp flour and more. As you can see from the lemon square example earlier, you cannot substitute white flour for an alternative flour 100 percent. Each flour has a different taste, density and amount of gluten, which will affect the recipe. You can typically substitute up to 50 percent of a recipe's flour for an alternative flour. I would start with whole wheat or spelt flour first before venturing to other flours. They tend to blend in better. As you get more experience you can be more adventurous and add other flours.

I have an amazing recipe for multigrain pancakes. The original recipe called for two cups of white flour, and I just tweaked the recipe each time I made it until I got just the right combination. I knew the recipe was perfect when my cousin tried them and said, "These are the best pancakes I've ever had!"

Now, if you want to make healthy gluten-free desserts, that's a bigger challenge. I was able to make the lemon squares with rice flour,but that was because the base of the squares are dense, and it doesn't rise. You can't simply change rice or bean flour for white flour; it won't work. For easy, healthy gluten-free recipes, I suggest a good cookbook like the Complete Gluten-free Cookbook by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt.

3. Change the oil.

If your recipe calls for butter, I would leave it (unless you have a dairy or lactose intolerance). If your recipe calls for margarine, canola oil or vegetable oil, I would change it to ghee (clarified butter- when you melt butter it separates into a creamy layer of milk fat and a yellow liquid which is the ghee), coconut oil (if this flavor will go well with the recipe) or grapeseed oil (this is a great, light-tasting oil -perfect for baking).

4. Change the sugar.

There are so many sweeteners available in place of sugar. I would NEVER choose an artificial sweetener. I would use a natural option like organic cane sugar, stevia, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup or brown rice syrup. You can do a straight substitution for white sugar with organic cane sugar. Other substitutions will require some experimentation. Honey, for instance, is sweeter than white sugar, so you would use less.

5. Go Aluminum Free.

Choose an aluminum-free baking powder. Also try using bakeware without aluminum. There is circumstantial evidence that links aluminum to Alzheimer's disease. Enameled bakeware or ceramic or glass bakeware would be better choices. If you must use aluminum bakeware, or if you are not sure, consider lining them with parchment paper to help protect yourself. It also makes clean-up easier.

6. Choose the real deal.

Use fresh, natural ingredients instead of artificial ones. For instance, if a recipe calls for lemon juice, use freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Or if you need vanilla, use real vanilla instead of artificial vanilla flavoring.

7. Add some healthy extras.

Consider adding some extra-healthy ingredients to your recipes to give them a nutritional boost. What you add will depend on the recipe, whether it is baked, cooked, refrigerated or frozen. Some delicious add-ons could include: Acidophilus (for refrigerated items like a pudding), hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds or nuts.

For healthy desserts that are easy to make, check out some of the recipes on my blog!

Link to blog: http://www.livhealthy.tv/blog.php

Add a Comment9 Comments

One of my favorite ingredient "tricks" that I use in a lot of my baking is adding zucchini. Have you ever tried it? My 2 kids don't have a clue, it works like a charm;) AND it adds an element of health into the recipe that normally is lacking in say, chocolate cake!
(Commercial link removed by moderator.)

September 21, 2010 - 5:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

For a food to have the label of organic, it has to be grown in a certain way that excludes the use of synthetic materials during production (synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc...), it is not necessary that it is not a GMO. You can have a GMO with the label of organic. I will appreciate if you can show why you say, "as organic foods are not allowed to contain genetically-modified ingredients"

June 26, 2010 - 9:20pm
EmpowHER Guest

While avoiding aluminum cookware is a good idea in general (Yes, you will still accumulate aluminum in your body, which is bad PERIOD) most researchers and scientific groups no longer believe aluminum is the CAUSE of Alzheimer's in humans. That conclusion was based off the fact that some sufferers of Alzheimer's had high deposits of aluminum in their bodies, and that certain animals who were tested on were highly susceptible to aluminum poisoning. See:



September 17, 2009 - 1:13pm
EmpowHER Guest

i stumbled on a couple of articles today that say canola oil is rapeseed oil. the change in name was due to the negativity associated with the word "rape". i don't know if you're right or i'm right, what with so much of the information on the internet actually being misinformation. however, i thought i'd post, maybe someone here has some insight on the matter.

September 12, 2009 - 9:57pm

Great suggestions! Another one is to avoid any additives, like artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

When it comes to decorating childrens birthday cakes dont use chemical food colorings. The colors are unnatural and harmful. My trick for adding colour to icing on cakes is to sieve out juice from a handful of frozen rasberries. Make up the icing with butter and icing sugar as usual, then drop in the raspberry juice. It gives a wonderful pink color and delicious raspberry flavor. Then decorate with quality chocolate.

If the boys don't want a pink cake :) use the juice from passionfruits for a yellow colour and tangy passionfruit taste.

Chemical additives are best avoided, especially for children who due to their smaller size react to food coloring more extremely in their health and behaviour.

August 6, 2009 - 12:05am

Yes...about a tablespoon...this dessert is amazingly creamy and delicious and you don't taste the avocado. I found the recipe at this site and make it all the time:
Therere's a picture too!
I eat raw vegan a lot and avocado is often used to give a creamy texture.
The crust is very nutty and rich.
And yes! Everything is better with chocolate...I use a lot of cocoa as I like it VERY chocolately!

August 5, 2009 - 7:17pm

How much is "a bit" of tahini? To me, a bit of tahini is roughly 1 tablespoon. So, I'm guessing that you just need enough to bind everything else together. What should the base be like?

I would have never thought about putting avocado and chocolate together. But, things go better with chocolate, eh?

August 5, 2009 - 5:48pm

Raw Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake
This is amazing...all natural, raw ingredients...so healthy and delicious!

For the base;

almonds and cashews
dried dates
a bit of tahini
blend it in a food processor until the mix starts sticking together. Add more dates if it needs more stickiness. Add more nuts if it needs more bulk. Put mixture into a greased tin and put in the freezer for 30 minutes.

For the chocolate filling/ topping;

6 ripe avocados
a banana
sweetener like date syrup or golden syrup
cocoa powder
Blend the avocados and then add the banana. Start adding cocoa powder and sweetener to taste. As usual, the most important rule of improvised cooking is to keep tasting! Spread over the base and put in the fridge.Let set for a few hours.

August 5, 2009 - 4:55pm


My mouth is watering! I love your suggestions. I knew a few of them, but I've never tried substituting some of the many kinds of flour on the market, using the ghee for a margarine/oil substitute, or adding things like flax seeds for an extra boost.

And for those of you who are wondering (like me!), YES she puts the recipe for the multigrain pancakes on her website! After her description it was the first thing I wanted to see. Here's a direct link, pancake lovers:


And I especially like tip No. 6: Choose the real deal. Remember, the closer an ingredient is to its natural state, the better it is for you.

August 5, 2009 - 8:31am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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