It sure might seem like dietitians and nutritionists have never taken a bite of pie or enjoyed a slice of pumpkin bread in their lives. After all, they encourage us to avoid sugar, right?
But really, even though dietitians embrace all things wellness (and everything they post on Instagram looks sooo healthy), that doesn’t mean they lead lives completely devoid of tasty treats. The reality: they get a sweet tooth just like the rest of us, and when they do, they eat dessert—plain and simple. And not just a nibble of something halfway tolerable to kick the craving, but a treat they find truly delicious. Seriously—fudge bites and no-bake cookies, included!
“It’s not realistic to go through life never enjoying dessert, so let go of any guilt,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, CSSD. “Choose desserts you enjoy that offer some nourishment, and won’t make you feel completely sluggish or bloated afterward, and let your body guide you.” If you’re working on cutting out sugar or skipping it for health reasons, awesome. But if you really crave something sweet, then go for it—no judgement from us.
Find out here what top dietitians love for dessert, and how to really savor the moment in a mindful way.
1. Freezer fudge bites
“I am such a dessert person,” says Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RDN, CDN, and founder of Middleberg Nutrition. One of her favorite treats is freezer fudge bites. “I pour them into ice cube trays for portion control purposes, and one of these bites is extremely satisfying—I love the salty and sweet combo.”
To make, combine one cup melted coconut butter, 1/3 cup nut butter of choice, and 1/4 cup raw cacao. Pour into ice cube trays and top with a sprinkle of sea salt, and let them sit in the freezer for one hour. Then, she says, eat the fudge in a thoughtful manner—not on the go. “Plate it, sit down, and enjoy it. The goal is to make the experience mindful and enjoyable versus standing around in the kitchen, digging into a box of cookies.”
2. Something fruit-centric (you saw that one coming, right?)
When Sass wants just a little something sweet, she reaches for a few squares of 70% or greater organic dark chocolate. But when she needs something more substantial—sometimes a little chocolate square isn’t going to cut it—she’ll turn to a fruit-based dessert. “I’ll warm some berries or cherries over low heat on the stovetop with fresh grated ginger, and top with a crumble made from almond butter, maple syrup, rolled oats, and cinnamon,” says Sass. (Okay, that just made fruit sound a lot more exciting.)
She recommends choosing desserts, like this one, based on whole food ingredients, rather than processed or refined products. “Reach for dates, fruit, and real maple syrup for sweeteners, and include ingredients that are satisfying and seem decadent but that also provide key nutrients and antioxidants,” says Sass. She’s talking about things like almond butter, almond flour, pistachios, cashew butter, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, and, well, fruit.
3. Homemade cake and pie
It’s hard to turn down a slice of homemade pie your aunt spent all day whipping up in the kitchen. You know she went heavy on the butter, but it’s usually the best-tasting treat at the party. (Certainly better than the package of store-bought cookies your cousin brought.) Marisa Moore, RDN, MBA, in Atlanta, Georgia has a solution: “If someone makes a pie or cake that I know tastes great, I’ll get a small slice and savor every single bite,” she says. “You can always go back for more if it’s really good and you want it, but usually a small piece does the trick.” Plus, she adds, this doesn’t happen every day. Her dessert words to live by: Indulge whenever it feels right.
4. Homemade vegan ice-cream
“One of my favorite, easy and healthy treats is a ‘nice cream,’ made of two sliced and frozen ripe bananas blended with one teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder in the food processor,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. “You get a sweet dessert with absolutely no added sugar and plenty of nutrients from the ingredients—think blood-pressure-helping potassium from the banana and health-helping antioxidants from the cocoa powder.”
She likes to top her frozen dessert with crushed pistachios (just place them in a sealed zip-top plastic bag and crush with something heavy, like a can, she says). Plus, you get perks from the nuts. “They offer a filling trio of protein, healthy fats, and fiber to help keep you fuller for longer,” adds Gorin.
5. No-bake oatmeal cookies
“The truth is, I have a huge sweet tooth,” says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, a nutritionist in New York. Rather than try to ignore it, she has a small serving of dessert every night after dinner. “Even though I’d love to eat sweets earlier in the day I have a ‘no dessert until after dinner’ rule as it’s a lot easier to control portion sizes when I’m already fairly full from dinner,” she says.
Her go-to treat? Ansel makes single-serving no-bake oatmeal cookies by mixing together two tablespoons rolled oats, one tablespoon peanut butter, 1/4 teaspoon maple syrup, and a dash of vanilla extract. “It’s super easy and is a great way to sneak in some whole grains,” she says. “Plus I love the fact that it makes just one cookie so there’s no possibility of going back for seconds.”
6. Tiramisu, shared with people you actually don’t mind sharing with
When Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, goes out to eat, she loves sharing a good tiramisu. “I believe that all foods fit—the key is to watch the portions and also slow down to take in the eating experience,” says Sheth. So if you’re dining out, she suggests ordering a dessert to share and savoring with a friend or your crew.
At home, Sheth loves combining strawberries with dark, melted chocolate or opts for plain Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt with berries and nuts for a sweet parfait. Her general guidelines for at-home treats: “Try to find choices that add some heart-healthy fat, fiber, and protein to minimize the immediate spike in blood sugar.”
7. Chocolate, berries, and a flavorful beverage
Sometimes, a dessert can taste even better when you have it with a truly good drink. “I personally find a nice cup of tea or sparkling water with a splash of tart cherry juice—super anti-inflammatory—makes it feel more indulgent,” says Kate Geagan, MS, RD.
For example, she loves having a clean energy bite (with ingredients like pistachios, almond flour, peanut butter, cacao nibs, dried fruit, coconut flour, hemp, or flax seeds) along with a cup of green tea. She’s also a fan of pairing berries with chocolate, which, she says, bring out each others’ best qualities.
8. Ice-cream, in all its decadent glory
“When I want dessert, I eat it!” says Kaleigh McMordie, RDN, and founder of Lively Table. “Most nights, that looks like a small cup of ice cream—the real stuff—or else I won’t feel satisfied,” adds McMordie. That means she skips all the low-cal ice creams filled with an endless list of additives and artificial stuff (you know, the kind that’s often labeled as a “healthy” alternative).
Going this route, she says, means she feels satisfied on less, and can move on with her night without feeling deprived. McMordie’s pro tip? “Keep in mind that if you want more later, you can have it; this helps you to stay in tune with your body and determine if you’re truly satisfied instead of eating something sweet just to eat it.”
9. “Social sweets”
Dessert is more fun with friends—that’s how DJ Blatner, RDN, and author of the Superfood Swap, likes to think of it. “I have dessert anytime I want it—the real stuff with white sugar and flour—the only guideline I like to follow is ‘social sweets only.’” That means she’ll have a treat when it’s in a fun, social setting, like Sheth does, rather than by herself.
“Dessert enjoyed with friends or savored sitting at a coffee shop with tea tastes so much better than when eaten at home alone,” adds Blatner. However, if she does have a sweet tooth and doesn’t feel like trekking out to get social sweets, she’ll do a naturally sweet treat like dark chocolate with peppermint tea. “Dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate, and peppermint tea can help digestion,” says Blatner.
10. Homemade, all-natural sweets
Well+Good Wellness Council member McKel Hill, MS, RDN, and founder of Nutrition Stripped recommends opting for homemade desserts—so you know what you’re putting into it—and using natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. “Ultimately it’s about having a healthy relationship with food, and enjoying dessert can be part of that,” says Hill. As for her dessert of choice? It’s often dark chocolate and tea (notice a theme here?), but when she really wants a treat, she whips up her own dark chocolate avocado mousse or raw cheesecake parfait.
When Jessica Beacom, RDN, and Stacie Hassing, RDN, LD, co-founders of The Real Food Dietitians want something decadent they reach for their homemade pumpkin pie truffles, covered in dark chocolate (they like 70% or darker). “They’re filled with healthy fats and just enough natural sweetness to satisfy even the fiercest sweet tooth,” says Beacom. Plus, you get all the perks that come along with dark chocolate. “Not only is dark chocolate delicious, but it’s also a great source of magnesium and a host of powerful antioxidants,” Hassing adds.
As you can see, dietitians are by no means anti-dessert—especially if it’s homemade, full of all-natural ingredients, and something that will legit hit the spot. So go ahead and cut yourself a piece of cake—and enjoy every fork-licking bite.
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