Cocoa is naturally rich in dietary polyphenols, which boast anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties — but when cocoa is transformed into decadent desserts, added sugars can outweigh chocolate's potential benefits. And just because you're watching your sugar intake, doesn't mean you're destined to a life of chocolate deprivation.
For chocolate lovers who are still trying to limit sweets, there are plenty of ways to keep the sugary stuff to a minimum and eat your cacao, too. At 5 grams of sugar or less, these six healthy chocolate desserts will satisfy your sweet tooth — minus all the crummy cavities and crappy sugar crashes.
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Plus, there's plenty of plant-based goodness and bonus nutrients packed within each of these chocolaty treats from popcorn to raspberries to avocados.
1. Chocolate-Peanut Popcorn
Sugar: 1 gram
This three-ingredient recipe only takes three minutes to make and combines the ultimate trifecta of movie theater munchies: popcorn, dry roasted peanuts and semi-sweet chocolate chip morsels.
A perfect snack for a quiet night of Netflix binging, one serving — which is a hefty three cups — of this pop-in-your-mouth treat will only cost you 1 gram of sugar. But you'll also get 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, which will help fill your belly and keep you from overindulging.
What's more, researchers found that popcorn may be a significant source of dietary polyphenol antioxidants, due to the high levels of bioaccessible polyphenols it contains, according to a January 2019 analysis in the journal Antioxidants. As if we needed another reason to love popcorn!
Get the Chocolate-Peanut Popcorn recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Tropical Chocolate Truffles
Sugar: 3 grams
Chewy Medjool dates and dried mango supply all the natural sweetness in these low-fat, melt-in-your-mouth truffles with only 3 grams of sugar per serving. Raw cacao powder provides a subtle, rich and chocolaty flavor while crunchy walnuts and shredded coconut add texture.
"Cacao powder contains flavanols, which have been linked to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. "It's an excellent ingredient for healthy desserts," she says.
Bonus: These no-bake chocolate balls don't even require a minute in the oven.
Get the Tropical Chocolate Truffles recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Chiles y Chocolate
Sugar: 0 grams
Sweet and spicy, the red pepper in these chocolaty treats just might make your mouth water for real. And, thanks to the erythritol-based sweetener Swerve, this no-guilt dessert has zero added sugar yet contains plenty of heart-healthy fats and good-for-your-gut fiber from avocado in addition to powerful, disease-fighting antioxidants from cacao.
"I love using avocado in desserts," says Largeman-Roth. "It adds such wonderful creaminess, as well as heart-healthy fiber and fat." These treats will satiate you and satisfy your craving for a little something sweet and zesty.
Get the Chiles y Chocolate recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Avocado Chocolate Mousse
Sugar: 5 grams
As decadent as desserts come, you won't believe this velvety chocolate mousse is made of all wholesome, natural ingredients and contains only 5 grams of sugar per serving. The star of this recipe, creamy avocado, gives this lip-smacking mousse its delightfully rich and smooth texture while filling your dessert bowl with healthy fats, fiber and a host of vitamins, too.
Clinical studies suggest that eating avocado helps support heart health while other exploratory studies point to avocados' weight-management and healthy-aging benefits, according to a May 2013 article in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. All great reasons to try new recipes that feature this superfood!
Get the Avocado Chocolate Mousse recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Chocolate Orange Salted Walnuts
Sugar: 1 gram
The ultimate in sweet and salty treats, these dark chocolate-covered, orange-zested walnuts only have 1 gram of sugar and can help increase feelings of fullness, curb cravings and slow down glucose absorption — thanks to their high healthy fat and fiber content.
Plus, munching on walnuts can even boost your heart health since they're tied to reduced LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, according to a July 2018 meta-analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
"Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based form of omega-3 that has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure," Largeman-Roth says. As for the dark chocolate, "the higher the percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate, the less sugar there will be — so look for dark chocolate with at least 65 percent cocoa," she says.
Get the Chocolate Orange Salted Walnuts recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Mini Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cups
Sugar: 4 grams
With only 4 grams of sugar per serving, these chocolate peanut butter cups boast half of the sugar and triple the fiber than the store-bought Reese's variety, per the USDA. Natural peanut butter, decadent dark chocolate and high-protein, fiber-rich chickpeas round out the list of healthy ingredients in these homemade, bite-sized treats.
"Chickpeas are a phenomenal ingredient and it's fun to use them in desserts," Largeman-Roth says. "They provide soluble fiber, which is the type that can help lower your cholesterol levels — and the apple butter lends a natural sweetness to the recipe."
Get the Mini Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cups recipe and nutrition info here.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Effects of Walnut Consumption on Blood Lipids and Other Cardiovascular Risk Factors: An Updated Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review of Controlled Trials”
- USDA My Food Data: “Reeses Peanut Butter Cups”
- Antioxidants: “Analysis of Popcorn (Zea Mays L. var. Everta) for Antioxidant Capacity and Total Phenolic Content”
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects”