How to Build a Healthier Dessert

With fat, sugar and calories on the outs, wise manufacturers are building healthy indulgences through clever application of current ingredient and technology trends.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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John Namy, vice president of applications at Kerry Ingredients & Flavors (, Beloit, Wis., concurs and lists the formidable challenges processors encounter. “Some of the technical and ingredient challenges include: matching sweetness levels, textures and mouthfeel; choosing appropriate fat replacers and bulking agents; layering levels of flavor; substituting healthy alternative ingredients; and creating innovative, appealing healthy dessert concepts.”

He says the challenges of developing healthier desserts are delivering on a multitude of senses, being creative and innovative as well as visually appealing and having bold flavors and textures that meet high expectations.

To solve those three challenges, Namy says he turns to “functional” ingredient forms of fat and sugar replacers, emulsifiers, bulkers and stabilizers, plus trendy ingredients such as live and active cultures. “We also use low-fat, no-sugar-added (NSA) dairy and non-dairy ingredients for ice cream, yogurt, whipped toppings, bakery products, dessert toppings, fillings and compound coatings,” he adds.

Ice cream poses the strongest challenge because of its premier position as a “reward” indulgence. Consumers take some sweets seriously enough to make the risk of disappointment particularly high. 

Improving the profile of ice cream is a challenge because of its purely indulgent status. Ben & Jerry’s does it by lowering the fat of the ice cream but keeping the indulgent mix-ins.
Ben and Jerry's Lite

“The challenge for Ben & Jerry’s is delivering the indulgence of our original, full-fat ice creams in a ‘better for you’ concept,” says Arnold Carbone, conductor of Bizzare & D (yes, that’s his real title!) for Ben & Jerry’s Inc. (, South Burlington, Vt., now a unit of Unilever.

“Sugar and cream play important roles in delivering a great ice cream texture, mouthfeel and flavor, but they also add calories and fat,” he continues. “In our light ice cream and frozen yogurts we’ve been able cut the fat and calories in the ice cream and deliver on indulgence through the use of alternative sweeteners and natural ingredients, while still formulating with the same decadent add-ins in the original full-fat recipes.”

Angie Muether, associate R&D director for Decatur, Ill.-based Tate & Lyle Americas (, acknowledges opportunities for both reduced calories and functionality. “Healthy indulgence is a growing trend [so] we work closely with manufacturers to reformulate desserts for a healthier profile,” she says. “This can include reducing calories and sugar [but also] adding functional ingredients, like fiber.”

The company’s Promitor line of soluble corn fiber can be incorporated into desserts allowing a reduction in sugars and calories while improving the nutritive value by adding fiber. For ice-cream and frozen desserts, Tate & Lyle makes Sta-Lite polydextrose, both a soluble fiber and a partial replacement for sugar, reducing calories by providing only 1 kcal/g compared to 4 from sugar.

Fruit, flavor and fresh

Despite the urge to “add value” (and ingredients), “thinking pure through fewer ingredients and flavors” is one of the trends being carefully monitored by many processors, according to Mia Arcieri, market manager at Fona International Inc. (, Geneva, Ill.

The “fewer ingredients” trend has, naturally, been a huge test of processors’ ingenuity. Luckily, frozen treats are well-suited to take advantage of this trend. Witness Häagen Dazs’ recent line of five-ingredient ice cream products.

“When people see a whole story in place of a simple list of ingredients they worry, especially when they stumble across ingredients they’re not aware of,” says Steven Tselios, director of Greek Gods (, Mount Lake Terrace, Wash. “We keep it simple and use ingredients that are readily recognizable.”

For its honey pomegranate, baklava and chocolate fig-flavored premium ice creams, the company uses organic milk, unprocessed sugar, pure pomegranate juice, real honey, natural chocolate and unsulfured figs — all naturally sourced.

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