Developing a low carb dessert without using sugar substitutes is quite difficult. The best route to go if you are living a low carb lifestyle is to go with a dessert that is high in fat instead of flour and sugar, and/or one that includes berries. Berries are often considered the only low carb fruit dessert allowed on this type of diet due to their high fiber to fructose ratio (meaning they don’t spike blood sugar as much as most fruit). The strawberry panna cotta recipe below does have some sugar, but it is relatively low. You could use a sugar substitute if you are very strict with your diet, or you could make this dessert and enjoy it occasionally. It’s a perfect dessert for cheat days….rich and creamy without being really high in carbs.
Why is fruit not allowed on a low carb diet?
While it’s true that most fruit has more nutritional value than sugary candy bars or prepared foods, for the most part fruit is very high in sugar (fructose). And, as our sweet tooth has grown stronger over the past years, the seed companies have kept up with the demand, hybridizing fruits and vegetables to be sweeter and sweeter.
Berries (and some citrus) are considered the closest to a low carb fruit. Berries are high in nutritional value (antioxidants) with a relatively low amount of sugar and a good amount of fiber. I’ve included a chart at the end of this post listing the popular fruits and their relative amounts of sugar for a quick comparison.
Why is low fat dairy not allowed?
Acknowledging berries as the go-to fruit to work with in a dessert, the next challenge is to make it rich in flavor without adding much sugar. Heavy cream and full fat yogurt have very little lactose which makes them good candidates to add flavor and richness to a low carb fruit dessert.
Lactose is the main problem with low fat dairy. Also referred to as milk sugar, lactose will spike blood sugar in the same way that table sugar does. Full fat dairy does not include the lactose (or has very little) which is why butter and heavy cream are allowed on a low carb diet.
Low Carb Fruit Dessert Recipe – Panna Cotta
This low carb fruit dessert has a ton of creamy rich flavor and it is actually quite easy to make. It does have 1/3 cup of sugar in a recipe that serves 4 so use a sugar substitute if you want to be really strict.
The only tricky thing about the recipe is getting the panna cotta out of whatever you are using for a mold, but the strawberry sauce can cover up any cosmetic breaks. And who cares about cosmetics anyway when it tastes this good!!
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I like the FAGE brand)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/3 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp
- 3 cups strawberries (frozen is OK)
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- In a small bowl add the water and then sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let it sit undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes.
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the cream, 1 cup yogurt, the vanilla and the salt. Let the yogurt mixture sit while you heat the remaining 3/4 cup cream and 1/3 cup sugar in a small pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is just starting to bubble gently (not boiling).
- Remove the pot from the heat and scrape in all of the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved (no granular texture, it should be smooth). Then add this gelatin-cream mixture to the yogurt mixture and whisk together thoroughly.
- Ladel mixture into 6-ounce molds (anything works; small bowls or ramekins). Refrigerate until set (4 hours or up to 3 days). Only cover with plastic wrap after they are cold to avoid condensation.
- About an hour before serving, make the strawberry sauce by first slicing up 2 1/2 cup strawberries (I used frozen berries that were thawed) and placing them in a medium bowl. In a food processor puree the remaining 1/2 cup berries with 2 Tbsp sugar and 2 tsp lemon juice. Add the puree to the sliced berries and stir in 2-3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1/4 tsp pepper and a pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 to 60 minutes.
- When ready to serve, dip ramekins or molds into hot water for a few seconds, Run a thin, sharp knife around inside of mold and then invert panna cottas onto individual dessert plates. Shake to loosen, or tap bottoms of mold and then lift off ramekins or molds. Spoon strawberry sauce over each panna cotta. Serve immediately.
If you don’t care for the balsamic topping with the strawberries, I’ve posted another low carb fruit panna cotta recipe that uses red wine with the strawberries instead and buttermilk instead of greek yogurt. Click here to see that recipe.
Now, I’ll end this post with a list showing relative amounts of sugar (carbs) in the various popular fruits. If you want more hands on help in living a low carb lifestyle, I do provide online coaching on a platform called coach.me. Click here if you want to see more about the diet coaching.
Low Carb Fruit Quick List (for use in a Low Carb Fruit Dessert)
Serving Size: 1/4 cup.
Fruits Lowest in Sugar:
- Lemon or lime
Fruits Low to Medium in Sugar
- Casaba Melon
- Honeydew melons
Fruits Fairly High in Sugar
Fruits Very High in Sugar:
- Dried Fruit