The Role of Dessert in Healthy Eating - Rancho La Puerta
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The Role of Dessert in Healthy Eating

Jill Nussinow, aptly nicknamed “The Veggie Queen” for her love of teaching people to cook and eat whole-food, plant-based meals, and Fran Costigan, known as The Queen of Vegan Desserts for her innovative vegan pastries, have been friends since they met at a food conference some time ago. For years they lived near each other on Long Island without knowing it. “Our friendship,” says Jill, “is sustained because we vibrate on the same wavelength – live our lives authentically, have fun and work hard to inspire others.” We were lucky to have them both at Rancho La Puerta at the same time as guest presenters and share their love of desserts. Below they reflect on the question, “Do desserts have a place in a healthful diet?”

Jill Nussinow, MS, RDN, The Veggie Queen

I did not grow up in a daily dessert household. I don’t remember ice cream in the freezer or cookies in the pantry. When we had dessert, it was often a special occasion, but not always. When I was little my mother sometimes took me to a bakery and bought me a cookie. Yes, one good sized cookie. And I savored it even if I ate it quickly.  My sweet tooth was often reserved for seasonal fruit and I could never get enough cherries. I ate them until my tummy hurt.

You don’t have to deprive yourself of dessert though. Having one dessert daily or keeping them at home(unless it is very small and hidden deep in my freezer or pantry so it’s not in sight) is not how I eat. You don’t need a dietitian, like me, to tell you that eating too much sugar isn’t good for you. You won’t catch me eating so-so cookies, cake, frozen dessert, or pudding. It’s just not worth it, for my mind, body, or the calories. Eating a small square of dark chocolate like one of the amazing Kajkab chocolate disks elicits joy. Savoring each bite of a delectable dessert, like those that my friend Fran Costigan makes, can make life a bit sweeter, more enjoyable, and make any day feel like a special occasion.

Fran Costigan, Queen of Vegan Desserts

My lifelong love of sweets—chocolate in particular— started early.  My mom told me she fed me ice cream for breakfast when I was a toddler. While I have no memory of ice cream for breakfast, I’ve always found milk impossible to swallow, so it is possible Mom resorted to this irresistible treat as a solution to the doctor’s order to, “Get milk into that child!” Not only that, but unlike my friend, the very smart Veggie Queen, MS, RDN Jill Nussinow’s childhood, we had dessert every single day, and ate sweets throughout the day too.

A question I’m asked and one I have asked myself is, do desserts have a place in a healthful diet? I think they are treats, not everyday foods. We all have birthdays, family celebrations, holidays and appropriate dessert treats are needed.

I spent years developing vegan dessert recipes that are truly as good as or better than their conventional counterparts. Nothing is missing except the dairy, eggs, and white sugar. As my pre-teen son said when I changed my diet years ago, “Mom you can’t put a candle in a sweet potato and tell me that’s my birthday cake.”

You will find me enjoying very big salads, mounds of greens, grains, beans, mushrooms, and fruit, and almost daily I eat one small truffle with a high percentage of cocoa in it.  Sometimes I indulge in cakes, puddings, ice creams, cookies, and pies that are made with wholesome ingredients. Jill and I agree, a delectable dessert can make life a little sweeter!

See Fran’s recipe for vegan Oat-Banana & Jam Muffins or this Assorted Greens with Citrus, Olives, Walnuts, and a Lemony Herb Vinaigrette from Jill.