Top Low-Fat Desserts

Here's what to eat when you need something sweet

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Low fat doesn't mean lifeless. Cakes, ice cream, pie, even the queen of desserts -- cheesecake -- can be delicious even when the recipes go light.

Just ask WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's "Recipe Doctor," Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, the author of The Flax Cookbook and Tell Me What To Eat If I Have Diabetes. When it comes to lightening recipes, there are no hard-and-fast rules, Magee says. Experiment. Use a fat-free substitute for just half the fat -- don't try to cut all the fat.

"It has to be enjoyable and satisfying, or you'll be more likely to overindulge," says Magee. "Some people like my light versions better than the original."

Her top list of tasty, low-fat desserts:

1. Fresh fruit. Whether it's a cooked-fruit compote, a bowl of chilled strawberries, or an artfully sliced pear on a plate, it's hard to beat fresh fruit for a tasty dessert. Dress it up with a swirl of chocolate syrup. A small wedge of cheese also works well with pears and apples.

2. Angel food cake. It's low in calories, with no fat. Fresh fruit (or fruit puree) and a small dollop of light Cool Whip makes it more interesting. You can also glaze the cake with a fruit juice/powdered sugar mixture.

3. Brownies and cakes. To lighten up brownies, substitute fat-free sour cream or concentrated coffee for some of the fat. Applesauce can replace fat in spice cake recipes. In carrot cake, try pineapple juice instead of half of the oil.

4. Cheesecake. Cut the fat by using light cream cheese. "Never use all fat-free cream cheese, but you can try half fat-free cream cheese and half light if you would like," she says. Also, cut fat in the crust by using lower-fat cookies or graham crackers and using a little less of them, cut the butter down to a couple of tablespoons instead of eight, and press just into the bottom of the pan, not the sides as well.

5. Key lime pie. Use fat-free sweetened, condensed milk instead of regular and cut the fat in the crust by adding a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of coconut milk (or fat-free half-and-half) instead of some of the butter. "It's all about shaving a little bit here and there," says Magee.

5. One-crust meringue pies. "The two-crust pies are gonna get ya -- that's where all the fat and calories are," Magee tells WebMD. Lemon meringue pie is your best option because it has one crust instead of two and is topped with meringue, not whipping cream.

6. Light ice cream. "I never buy regular-fat ice cream," she says. "There are so many really good light brands." Serve it with fresh berries, a sprinkling of cinnamon, even a bit of chocolate syrup -- just don't go crazy with it.

7. S'mores. Use low-fat graham crackers. "The trick is how much chocolate you're sticking in there," Magee says. "You can get away with little mini bars; use one per half. A little chocolate goes a long way."

8. Pudding. Use low-fat milk to make instant pudding. Add fresh raspberries when you serve it.

9. Gelato. The key is portion size; buy a mini-scoop. Because it's very rich, gelato is also very satisfying.

10. Light strawberry shortcake. Make it with a slice of Entenmann's Golden Cake (or make a lower-fat biscuit using Reduced Fat Bisquick), topped with fresh strawberries and a small dollop of Light Cool Whip or light whipping cream.

Even when you're eating a lighter dessert, portion size is still a big issue. When you sit down at dessert time, you still have to watch yourself. "It's easy to overdo because it tastes so good," Magee says.


SOURCE: Elaine Magee, MPH, RD; WebMD Weight Loss Center consultant; author of The Flax Cookbook and Tell Me What To Eat If I Have Diabetes.

Originally published October 13, 2003.
Medically updated Oct. 7, 2005.

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