2 Healthy Dessert Recipes from Tana Amen’s Cookbook

When many people think of the holiday season, they think of food—and especially sweets. Cakes, pies, cookies, and chocolates can seem like required eating at many holiday events. But here’s the good news: You can have all of the holiday fun and the tasty desserts without going overboard.

When you consume too much sugar, carbs, and unhealthy fats, your diet, your energy, and your sleep quality suffer—not exactly a good way to keep up your holiday cheer. That’s why I love creating desserts with all of the decadence of traditional recipes, but without all of the junk. Here are just a few tweaks I suggest to help turn desserts from destructive to delicious (and nutritious):

  • Replace toxic table sugar with sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit.
  • Incorporate good-for-you spices like cinnamon to boost the health benefits.
  • Use tree-nut or seed butters instead of peanut butter.
  • Add fiber and protein through additions like fresh fruit and raw nuts.
  • Swap butter and vegetable oils for healthy fats like coconut oil.

To get you started, here are a couple of recipes that are my personal holiday favorites. They’ve proven to be hits with friends and family over the holidays, too!

Chocolate Cashew Protein Balls

Chocolate and a protein boost to get you through the holidays—these bite-size treats are a win-win. But it’s important to choose your ingredients carefully. I use BrainMD Brain in Love, which is my husband’s, Dr. Daniel Amen’s, recipe. It’s delicious, but it’s also sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, cholesterol-free, non-GMO, and good for your brain and body. This decadent dark chocolate has 400 mg flavanols (bioactive compounds that have antioxidant properties), plus 3 g fiber and 3 g protein, per serving.

Holiday Tip: As an added bonus, you can easily whip these up as homemade gifts for family and friends. Or you can bring them to holiday parties so you have your own healthy treats. By planning ahead, you won’t be tempted to engage with any of the sugar-bomb desserts on offer.

Chocolate Cashew Protein Ball Recipe

Chocolate Cashew Protein Ball Recipe | BrainMD

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup chocolate or vanilla plant-based Brain MD protein powder
  • 1 cup cashew butter or other tree-nut butter, or seed butter (no-stir variety)
  • 2 tablespoons stevia powder, monk fruit, or honey (optional)
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or cacao powder for more chocolate flavor)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips (dairy-free and sugar-free—the Lilly’s Brand is great)
  • 24 toothpicks
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate (dairy-free and sugar-free, such as the Brain MD brand)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (optional)
  • 24 truffle liners (optional)
  • 24 colorful foil wrappers (optional)

Directions:

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper.
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the protein powder, cashew butter, stevia or other sweetener, flax meal, cinnamon, vanilla, and chocolate chips.
  3. Form into balls, insert a toothpick in each, place on parchment paper, and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  4. Put the 8 ounces of chocolate (and coconut oil if desired) in a microwave-safe bowl. (Coconut oil is not necessary, but it will give you a bit of grace, guaranteeing that you don’t burn your chocolate, and give you a smooth, creamy consistency every time.) If using chocolate bars, break them into pieces. Heat the chocolate in 20- to 30-second intervals, stirring each time. Heat until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, being careful not to burn it. If you prefer heating chocolate over the stove, either heat over low heat using a double boiler, or use a small pot and stir constantly so the chocolate doesn’t burn.
  5. When the chocolate is liquefied, dip each ball into the chocolate mix and place back on the lined cookie sheet.
  6. Place the tray of chocolate-covered protein balls in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes so the chocolate hardens.
  7. If desired, wrap in colorful foil wrapping, remove the toothpicks, and place in truffle liners. Store in the refrigerator.

Notes: Be sure to use a firm “no-stir” brand of cashew butter (or other nut butter) or seed butter. Also keep the balls small, which will make them easier to work with.

Nutritional Info: This recipe makes 24 balls. Each serving has 81.5 calories, 7.4 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 9.1 mg sodium, 3.9 g carbohydrates, 0.8 g fiber, and 3 g protein.

Omni Apple Cobbler Squares

This is a fan-favorite dessert recipe from my book The Omni Diet, and it’s especially great for the winter holidays, when apples are in season. I like to use red apples for this recipe, because they’re sweeter, but you can also use a combination of red and green. The warming spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger also add traditional holiday aromas and flavors. Plus, spices are a delicious and easy way to add numerous health benefits to your desserts!

Holiday Tip: Holidays can be difficult enough when we adults have to monitor our own food and sugar consumption. But it’s even trickier when our children are constantly being pushed foods that are unhealthy and toxic to their brains, teeth, and bodies. That’s why, when my daughter Chloe was younger, I made sure to provide a brain-healthy meal and dessert, like this apple cobbler, at home before she went out to places where sugar was going to be the main event (like holiday parties). When you provide better options for your kids—and model those choices as the parent—you’ll find they learn how to make healthier choices themselves as they get older.

Healthy Apple Cobbler Squares

Healthy Apple Cobbler Squares | BrainMD

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 3⁄4 cup almond flour
  • 3⁄4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 8 dates
  • 4 teaspoons coconut oil

 

Filling

  • 7 apples
  • 1⁄2 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ginger

 

Crumble Topping

  • 1⁄4 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1⁄4 cup almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond butter
  • 6 dates

Directions for Crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×9-inch glass baking dish with a light coat of coconut oil.
  2. In a food processor, mix the flour, dates, and coconut oil until the mixture is pasty and holds together.
  3. Press the mixture into a pan with fingers, halfway up the sides. The crust should be thin.
  4. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until light golden brown. 

Directions for Filling:

  1. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Peel and chop apples. (Try using the slicer attachment on a food processor as a shortcut.)
  2. Place apples in a medium pan over medium heat. The apples will release fluid and begin to dehydrate. Add monk fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Cook until the apples are hot and soft, about 15 minutes. Don’t allow the apples to dry out and burn.
  3. Remove the apples from heat and pour into the pie crust.

Assembling Cobbler:

  1. Mix all topping ingredients in a food processor until well-blended and chunky.
  2. Remove the crumble topping from the food processor and use your hands to sprinkle on top of the apples in the pie crust.
  3. Bake the pie for 15 minutes.

Nutritional Info: This recipe makes 16 servings. Each serving has 158 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0.0 mg sodium, 0.0 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 3.8 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 2.8 g protein.

’Tis the Season for Staying Healthy

With cold and flu bugs circulating, holiday stress, and shorter, darker days, it’s crucial to maintain our health this time of year through any strategies possible. One easy way to feel better all season long is to stick to a healthy, nourishing diet and just say no to the gorge-fests that can accompany this season. These delicious desserts are proof that you can still indulge in amazing treats while never feeling deprived—and stay on track until the new year and beyond.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN
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