Best Heart-Healthy Desserts


In the past, nutrition and public health experts believed too much fat in Americans’ diets was a root cause of heart disease. Butter was vilified, and cake frosting was suspect. But things have changed. Butter is back in fashion. And extra virgin olive oil is emerging as a true health food. But ready-made frosting, featuring trans fats, is definitely not healthful.

Artificial trans fats are essentially toxic. Although still available in our food supply in limited instances, pressure from the FDA and the public has largely worked to banish these synthetic fats from store shelves. Most people will remember shortening in a can. This was the purest form of these synthetic fats. Given that some baked packaged goods still contain trans fats, it’s more important than ever to consider what you are serving to your family.

Beware Synthetic “Frankenfats”

Solid at room temperature, and more shelf-stable than other, more natural forms of dietary fat, trans fats were hailed as an improvement, introduced to American consumers by clever chemists at the beginning of the 20th century. Generations of Americans were raised on trans fats, and evidence suggests they paid a relatively heavy price in terms of significantly increased risks of cardiovascular disease.

Eventually, the link between trans fatty acid consumption and increased heart disease risk became apparent: Trans fats significantly increase levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol. Experts moved to encourage manufacturers to phase out the use of these highly damaging synthetic chemicals.

In the meantime, however, as the heart disease epidemic raged, experts turned their attention to other forms of fat; especially saturated fats. Fat in general was more or less demonized, and blamed for everything from obesity to elevated disease risk. Even fatty plant foods, such as nuts or avocados, were lumped together and labeled as undesirable. We now know that unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, from plant foods, are actually good for heart health.

Isn’t That Sweet

Unfortunately, it is now becoming increasingly clear that a greater danger may have been hiding in plain sight all along: sugar. While distracted by the perceived threat from dietary fats, scientists lost sight of a glaring fact: In the past century, the average person’s consumption of sugar has increased dramatically compared to historical levels.

Ironically, food manufacturers working to reduce fat in their offerings exacerbated the problem by adding still more sugar to their products to compensate for reductions in fats. As sugar consumption skyrocketed, so too did the incidence of many modern lifestyle diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

These days, the emphasis is on cutting sugar intake, and eating healthful fats, obtained primarily from cold-water fish and plant foods. With that more healthful nutrient balance in mind, here are some heart-healthy dessert suggestions:

Bountiful Berry Parfaits

• 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

• 1 pint raspberries

• 1 pint blueberries

• 1 pint blackberries

• Several graham crackers and gingersnaps, crushed to a powder in a heavy-duty 1-gallon plastic bag

• 1 tsp sugar

• 1 cup whole-fat or reduced-fat Greek-style plain yogurt

• 2 Tbsp honey

• 1/2-1 tsp ground cinnamon


Pick over berries, removing any that have spoiled. Rinse and dry. In a large bowl, toss berries with sugar. Sprinkle a layer of cookie crumbs in the bottom of each of 4 parfait glasses; about 1/4-1/2-inch deep. Top with berry mixture. Mix yogurt with honey and cinnamon (pinch of nutmeg, optional) and spoon equal portions over berries. Serve chilled.

Chocolate/Hazelnut Cookies

• 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil

• 1/2 cup butter, room temperature

• 1/4 cup powdered sugar (plus 1 cup for rolling dough)

• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

• 1/2 tsp almond extract

• 2 cups flour

• 1/2 cup chocolate/hazelnut spread (e.g. Nutella) at room temperature


Preheat oven to 350° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter/coconut oil with 1/4 cup sugar, until light and well mixed (about 3 minutes on high). Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat in. Continue mixing, as you gradually add in flour. Beat in chocolate/hazelnut spread.

Working one tbsp at a time, drop dough on cookie sheets and bake for approximately 11 minutes. Cool on wire rack, then roll cookies in remaining powdered sugar. Knock off excess and serve, or store in an airtight container


Johnson RK, Appel LJ, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009 Sep 15;120(11):1011-20. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627. Epub 2009 Aug 24.

Khan TA, Sievenpiper JL. Controversies about sugars: results from systematic reviews and meta-analyses on obesity, cardiometabolic disease and diabetes. European Journal of Nutrition. 2016;55(Suppl 2):25-43. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1345-3.

Remig V, Franklin B, Margolis S, Kostas G, Nece T, Street JC. Trans fats in America: a review of their use, consumption, health implications, and regulation. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Apr;110(4):585-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.12.024.

Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ. 2012 Jan 15;346:e7492. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7492.

Zock PL, Blom WAM, Nettleton JA, Hornstra G. Progressing Insights into the Role of Dietary Fats in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Current Cardiology Reports. 2016;18(11):111. doi:10.1007/s11886-016-0793-y.

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