Coconut Date Zucchini Balls

Most desserts have very little to offer nutritionally, save for the strawberry garnish on the giant slice of chocolate cake or pistachio pieces on your cheesecake. But when a food can satisfy a sweet tooth and offer nutrients, it’s the ultimate win-win: you get dessert and you get to top off your diet with even more nutrients!

Ingredients:
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
½ cup shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped dried cherries
½ cup flaked dried coconut, plus extra for rolling
1 cup almonds
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
1 T hemp seeds
1 T chia seeds

Note: Amount of ingredients may vary; you may need to add more dates or cherries if the mixture is too crumbly or doesn’t hold together.

Method:

1. Put the almonds in a food processor; process until chopped into small bits.
2. Add dates, vanilla extract, cinnamon, hemp seeds, and chia seeds; process until well blended.
3. Remove from food processor; in a bowl, add chopped cherries, zucchini, and flaked coconut. Mix with a spoon (or your hands) until ingredients are incorporated.
4. Roll mixture into golf-ball sized balls. Roll balls in coconut to cover.
5. Place on a baking sheet; freeze for a few hours.

Why Should You Eat This?

Most desserts either leave you feeling uncomfortably stuffed (and on a mission to eat only vegetables and raw fish the next day) or still hungry and craving more dessert. That’s because typical desserts — cookies, ice cream, cake, pie — are filled with sugar, mostly unhealthy fats, and lots of refined carbs. Consuming large amounts of refined carbs and sugar causes blood glucose levels to spike, followed by a quick spike in insulin. When the insulin clears out the glucose (from the excess sugars), you’re left in a state of low-blood sugar, which results in hunger and more cravings for high-sugar foods.

While dates are high in sugar, they’re paired with almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds — as well as the fiber in zucchini — to reduce their glycemic index. Healthy fats and fiber reduce the glycemic load of a meal, thereby decreasing their spiking effect on your blood sugar — and post-dessert cravings. In a study published in the journal Metabolism, researchers found that the blood sugars of participants who consumed almonds with white bread (a high GI-food) rose almost less than half of those who ate only white bread.

(While we’re on the topic, you can apply this piece of information to snacking and eating in general: pair high carbohydrate or high-sugar foods (crackers, rice cakes, apples) with high-fat or high-fiber foods (like almonds, peanut butter, or hummus) to keep blood sugar levels — as well as energy and mood — stable!)

This dessert is far from an empty-calorie dessert. Hemp seeds are high in protein, and both hemp seeds and chia seeds are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Dried cherries and coconut are healthy picks for an athlete: cherries contain anthocyanins that reduce post-exercise inflammation and soreness, and coconuts boast medium chain triglycerides that have been shown to boost endurance and athletic performance. Because of this dessert’s relative low calorie count and high protein, fiber, and healthy fats, this recipe is also suitable for a between-meal or pre-exercise snack.

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