Dietitian’s Digest: Nutrient-dense sweet treats to enjoy in summer

Published 5:19 pm Monday, June 21, 2021

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Dietitian’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

You may have heard the term “empty calories,” but what does that mean? Essentially, it’s referring to a food or beverage that, although it provides calories — AKA energy — there are very few other nutritive benefits. Soda is a good example of a beverage that provides empty calories. There is energy from the added sugar, but other than that you aren’t getting any significant beneficial micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, or higher quality macronutrients such as fiber, protein or healthy fats. The same goes for alcoholic beverages, sugary beverages such as Kool-aid or high fructose corn syrup-based juices, and certain desserts or candies.

Emily Schmidt

How can you satisfy that sweet tooth while also providing your body with nutrients that it needs to function at its best? Incorporate healthier carbohydrates that contain fiber such as fruit, oats and whole wheat flour, as well as unsaturated fats such as nuts or nut-based oils. Additionally, spices and seasonings such as cinnamon or nutmeg can provide various antioxidants that may protect against aging and chronic health conditions. The following Mayo Clinic-developed recipes are great examples of desserts that are more nutrient-dense and nourishing for your body. When natural and added sugars are combined with more micro- and macronutrients, your body can metabolize or break down these foods better. Although it’s fine to indulge in some of those “empty calories” for treats a few times per week, an excellent habit to form is varying your sweets with more nutrient-dense options. Enjoy the following delicious spring and summer options!

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Summer fruit gratin

Dietitian’s tip: Although this dessert uses a mix of summer stone fruits, it can be easily adapted. In early summer, combine raspberries and apricots. In the fall, try a combination of apples and cranberries.

Number of servings: 6


For the filling:

1 pound cherries, pitted and halved

4 cups peeled, pitted and sliced mixed summer stone fruits, such as nectarines, peaches and apricots

1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or firmly packed light brown sugar

For the topping:

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup sliced (flaked) almonds

3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar or firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons walnut oil or canola oil

1 tablespoon dark honey


Heat the oven to 350° F. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the cherries and stone fruits. Sprinkle with the flour and turbinado sugar and toss gently to mix.

To make the topping, in another bowl, combine the oats, almonds, flour, turbinado sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Whisk to blend. Stir in the oil and honey and mix until well-blended.

Spread the fruit mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the oat-almond mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is lightly browned, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with family.