Have Your Dessert and Eat It Too

Pear and Cherry Crumble

Get the recipe for a healthy dessert alternative:

Pear and Cherry Crumble

Many of us consider sharing good food – including good desserts – to be a sign of friendship, love and camaraderie during special occasions, especially during the holidays.


This holiday season, the local American Heart Association and UW Health know that although desserts like cutout cookies and pies are a small part of a heart-healthy diet, they are also a large part of celebrating this special time of year.


"You can indulge in satisfying desserts and still keep your heart healthy and waistline trim," says Gail Underbakke, registered dietitian and nutrition coordinator for the UW Health Preventive Cardiology Program. "The key to fitting dessert into a healthful eating plan is moderation. We're not suggesting dessert or a holiday cookie with every meal. Far from it. But when you do decide to have a sweet treat, look for recipes that are light on fat, especially saturated fat, and cholesterol."


Some desserts, such as fruit pies and parfaits, can be made light and lively and still provide Vitamins A and C, potassium, and beta carotene. If you choose a dessert that's based on fat-free or low-fat dairy products, that can be incorporated into holiday cheesecake recipes, you get calcium, protein, and other nutrients.


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"Some people may think that the term 'nutritious desserts' is an oxymoron. But it is possible," continues Underbakke. "If the dessert contains fruit, for example, it includes vitamins, minerals, and fibers. You can also easily substitute ingredients high in fat and cholesterol with healthier options."


Smart substitutions for your favorite holiday treats include:

  • Instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored applesauce
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitute or freshly squeezed juice mixes
  • Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk
  • Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour
  • Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries
  • Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter

Underbakke says, "If you can't control what is on the holiday dessert menu, the best way to enjoy a sweet without losing control is by sampling, rather than having full servings." She adds, "For example, have one bite of pie, half a cookie and one small square of fudge. Find a friend or family member who will stick to the sampling rule with you."