Hi everyone, Dr. Junger here.
There’s nothing like the sweet taste of fresh figs or the fragrant smell of dark chocolate. In my opinion, life without sweetness could hardly be considered a life well lived.
But in the health and wellness world, sweet foods take quite a beating. Some of us have even come to believe that there is no place for dessert in a clean diet.
That’s why my team and I have put together our Clean Dessert ideas. We hope these options will help you swap poor-quality sweets for some tasty clean ones.
The Five Tastes
All of the five tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami—have a place in a clean lifestyle. When the foods you eat are skewed too far towards any one taste, the body naturally craves another taste to find balance. The desire for different flavors uncovers one of the ways our bodies attempt to get all the nutrients they need.
For example, foods that have important phytonutrients, particularly dark green plants like mustard greens, dandelion, arugula, kale, chard, and various teas, have a bitter flavor. Salty foods help satisfy the body’s need for minerals. Fermented foods, aged meats and cheeses have an umami flavor which is a marker of protein. And the sweet flavor signals to the brain that caloric abundance and energy are available. Sweet foods can also help relax the body by reducing stress hormones which is one of reasons why we turn to them during difficult times.
But not all treats are created equal. When I talk about desserts, I mean sweets made from whole foods, free of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and poor-quality oils. These kinds of items, like fruit and homemade or store bought treats made with clean ingredients, are a wonderful addition to a clean diet.
Be Intentional About Your Desserts
While we can control how many and which sweets we eat, the one truth we can’t escape is that most of us enjoy treats. Sometimes we want the sweetness of food, other times we desire the sweetness of relationships or touch.
When our sweet tooth isn’t getting satisfied with clean options, we can end up mindlessly reaching for junk. Our eating turns emotional and the cycle can be vicious. When you realize why you are reaching for the junk, you can begin to get a handle on your emotional triggers and learn to interrupt the cycle before it gets out of control.
It’s important to remember that sweets are powerful, energy-rich foods that are best eaten occasionally and with intention. When you have dessert, bring your awareness fully to the present moment with each bite and enjoy the flavors and sensations.
Note: For more help with emotional eating, check out our video on the cycle of emotional eating.
Clean Dessert Ideas
The following dessert ideas provide lots of delicious options. For those who need to refrain from all forms of sugar, the ideas below with the exception of fruit, can be made with natural sugar alternatives like stevia, xylitol, and lakanto.
In general, fruit is the most balanced way to satisfy your sweet tooth. It’s a lower calorie food loaded with phytonutrients. The sugar found in fruit is better assimilated by the body because it’s packaged with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. Berries are an excellent choice along with a small handful of nuts or dark chocolate. I find fruit to be one of the best dessert options, especially during the Clean Cleanse.
#2 Gluten-free Baked Goods
Gluten-free baked goods can be found in most supermarkets. The cookies, brownies, and cakes are delicious and reduce your exposure to pro-inflammatory gluten. However, these items are still heavily processed and often use cheap flours, processed sugar, and poor quality vegetable oils. A better option is to make your own, using organic flours, good oils, and a lot less sugar. Though a better choice than gluten-containing products, I consider clean baked goods an occasional treat.
Tip: Flourless chocolate cake, sorbets, and creme brûlée are gluten-free desserts that can frequently be found at restaurants.
Chocolate has a way of stirring up powerful sensations of pleasure and love. Chocolate beans, like coffee beans, are chemically complex with much research touting their benefits. I recommend having at least 70 percent dark chocolate without preservatives and waxes. If you are not used to dark chocolate, start with a 50 percent bar and continue working your way up. Over time, most people begin to prefer darker chocolate for it’s rich and elaborate flavor, lower sugar content, and higher level of antioxidants.
Recipes: Hazelnut Cococrunch Bars
#4 Ice Pops and Ice Cream
At Clean, we focus on dairy-free food because we’ve found that dairy is a toxic trigger for many people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have ice cream or ice pops. Lots of dairy-free varieties exist at most supermarkets. I’m a big fan of coconut based ice creams and tend to stay away from soy-based ones. Check out my own banana ice cream recipe below.
#5 Dessert Drinks
A dessert drink may be just the touch of sweetness you need after a great meal. Hot chocolate made with cacao powder, coconut or almond milk, and a dash of stevia is a Clean Team favorite. Green or herbal tea with stevia or honey is another satisfying option. For a richer drink, try Chef Frank’s Malted Maca Milkshake below.
Recipe: Malted Maca Milkshake Video
Serious health problems like cancer, fungal overgrowth, gut issues, and autoimmunity often benefit from a sugar free diet for a period of time. The Clean Gut Cleanse uses a low sugar approach to help repair the gut. I’ve found for people who need it, a program like the gut cleanse can produce outstanding results.
But for the majority of people who cannot sustain nor prefer to live a sweet-free lifestyle, occasional clean desserts are an important and enjoyable part of a balanced diet. They can help to mitigate binging, over-indulging, and give us a taste of the sweet life we desire.
To your health,
Alejandro Junger, M.D.