Danish pastries, sometimes referred to as viennoiserie, are flaky, buttery, sweet pastries that originated in Denmark. Some of the most popular types of Danish pastries include danishes, cinnamon rolls, and croissants. These pastries are beloved around the world for their rich, indulgent taste and texture. However, with their high fat and sugar content, many people wonder – are Danish pastries actually good for you?
Nutritional Value of Danish Pastries
Danish pastries are made by laminating dough with butter to create their signature flaky texture. This laminating process means that Danish pastries contain a significant amount of fat and calories:
|Total Fat (g)
|Saturated Fat (g)
|Trans Fat (g)
|Total Carbs (g)
|Dietary Fiber (g)
|1 pastry (3.5 oz)
|1 roll (2.6 oz)
|1 croissant (2.1 oz)
As you can see, a single Danish pastry can contain over 300 calories and between 8-16 grams of fat. Most of the fat is saturated fat and trans fat, which are unhealthy types of fat that can raise cholesterol levels. Danish pastries also tend to be high in refined carbohydrates from white flour, but low in fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients.
While the nutritional value can vary between different types of pastries, most Danish pastries are high in calories, fat, and sugar compared to typical breakfast foods like oatmeal, whole grain toast, or yogurt with fruit.
Weight Gain Risk
The high calorie and fat contents mean that frequent Danish pastry consumption can lead to weight gain over time.
To illustrate, a 200 pound person would gain over 20 pounds in a year if they consumed an extra 500 calories from a cheese Danish pastry 6 days per week!
500 calories x 6 times per week = 3,000 extra calories per week. Over 52 weeks, that’s 156,000 extra calories. Since there are about 3,500 calories in a pound, 156,000 extra calories equates to over 20 pounds of weight gain.
This example shows how the extras calories from Danish pastries can really add up if consumed frequently, leading to unwanted weight gain for many people.
Effects on Blood Sugar
In addition to extra calories and fat, the refined flour and sugar in Danish pastries can cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
When you consume refined carbs like white flour, your blood sugar rises rapidly. This triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin to lower blood sugar. Excess insulin can lead to a rapid drop in blood sugar, resulting in fatigue, hunger, and cravings shortly after eating.
Consuming Danish pastries on a regular basis can promote unstable blood sugar levels, which is problematic for people with diabetes or prediabetes. The extra insulin in the blood may also worsen insulin resistance over time.
Low Nutrient Value
Compared to whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and nuts, Danish pastries have very low nutrient value.
A Danish pastry provides carbohydrates but almost no protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or healthy fats. You miss out on a wide range of nutrients by filling up on empty calories and carbs from Danish pastries.
Your body needs more than just calories to properly function and stay healthy. Eating nutritious whole foods helps ensure you get the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other beneficial compounds your body requires. Danish pastries don’t deliver much in this regard.
High in Unhealthy Types of Fat
As mentioned earlier, the laminating process results in Danish pastries containing significant amounts of saturated fat and trans fat:
– Saturated fat raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing heart disease risk.
– Trans fats are the most unhealthy type of fat. They both raise LDL and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats have been banned from many restaurant foods due to their negative health effects.
Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish is recommended for heart health. Danish pastries provide mostly unhealthy fats.
Often Contain Additives
Store-bought Danish pastries frequently contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and other additives.
While the health effects of food additives are still debated, there are concerns about hyperactivity in children and other adverse effects. Many people prefer to avoid artificial additives where possible.
Homemade Danish pastries allow you to control exactly what ingredients are used. However, most people rely on bakeries for convenient access to Danish pastries and end up consuming the additives contained in them.
May Cause Inflammation
There are concerns that ingredients in Danish pastries like refined flour, refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and dairy may promote inflammation in the body when consumed in high amounts.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is at the root of many health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Reducing inflammatory foods and increasing anti-inflammatory foods is considered beneficial for overall health.
Since Danish pastries lack anti-inflammatory nutrients and contain potentially inflammatory refined grains and dairy, frequently consuming them may contribute to higher inflammation.
Often High in Sugar
In addition to the natural sugars in the dairy and fruit fillings, many Danish pastry recipes call for brushing the pastries with simple syrups or glazes before and after baking.
These extra sugars mean the final Danish pastries can be very high in added sugars. For example, a 4-inch cinnamon roll can contain over 20 grams of sugar – nearly as much as 6 teaspoons!
Consuming too much added sugar promotes cavities, weight gain, blood sugar spikes, inflammation, and fatty liver disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men. Just one Danish pastry could send you well beyond the recommended upper limit for added sugars.
Low in Fiber
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that forms a gel-like consistency when mixed with water. It helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream for more stable energy levels. Soluble fiber can also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and promote heart health.
Unfortunately, most Danish pastries are very low in fiber due to being made with refined rather than whole grain flour. Without adequate fiber, the sugar and carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed, leading to an unhealthy blood sugar spike and crash.
Often Contain Unhealthy Fats for Frying
Authentic Danish pastry recipes call for frying the dough in butter or shortening to impart a delicious, flaky texture. However, some bakeries skip this step to reduce costs and labor.
Instead, they fry the pastries in cheap oils like soybean, corn, cottonseed, or canola oil. These oils are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and vulnerable to oxidative damage during high heat frying. This creates unhealthy free radicals and harmful trans fats in the final product.
Frying in healthy, stable saturated fats like coconut oil, tallow, or duck fat would be less detrimental than using processed vegetable oils. But most commercial bakeries choose cost savings over health when selecting frying fats.
Easy to Overeat
With their sweet taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture, it’s very easy to overindulge in Danish pastries when they are available. Just one more bite can quickly turn into two, three, or more pastries when they are served fresh out of the oven.
Having poor portion control leads many people to overeat these high calorie treats. It’s best to serve Danish pastries in sensible portions as part of a balanced breakfast or meal, rather than ad libitum snacking. Practicing mindful eating when you indulge in these foods can prevent easy overconsumption.
Often Served With Unhealthy Sides
Danish pastries are considered by most people to be more of an indulgence than a nutritious breakfast. As a result, they are commonly served alongside sides like:
– Bacon, sausage, ham
– Hashbrowns or home fries
– Juice or soda
– Coffee with cream and sugar
The high calorie sides and beverages served with Danish pastries add even more fat, salt, sugar, and refined carbs to the meal. It’s best to accompany them with healthier sides like fruit, plain Greek yogurt, or eggs.
Unlike foods like oatmeal, eggs, or avocado toast, very few people make Danish pastries from scratch at home. That leaves most people relying on store-bought or bakery versions that may use inferior ingredients.
When you bake homemade Danish pastries, you can control the flour type, use real butter, avoid artificial additives, skip excess glazing, and adjust sugar amounts. This allows you to potentially improve their nutrition compared to most commercial offerings. But the time and effort required means homemade Danish pastries are an occasional treat for most, rather than a daily habit.
Often Eaten First Thing in the Morning
For many people visiting a bakery on their morning commute or staying in a hotel, Danish pastries end up being a quick, convenient breakfast choice to start their day.
However, with their propensity to spike blood sugar and cause crashes later, Danish pastries are far from an optimal first meal. The excess calories can also lead to gaining weight over time.
It would be better nutritionally to choose a breakfast with fiber, protein, and healthy fats that provides sustained energy levels. Some examples of healthier breakfast choices include:
– Oatmeal with berries and nuts
– Avocado toast on whole grain bread
– Vegetable omelet with whole grain toast
– Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
Should be Eaten in Moderation as Part of a Healthy Diet
Based on their low nutrient value and high amounts of refined flour, sugar, and unhealthy fats, Danish pastries should be enjoyed responsibly as occasional treats rather than daily habits. Having them once per week or couple of weeks is more sensible than starting off each morning with a Danish pastry.
When you do indulge in these sweet, flaky treats, portion control is key. Stick to one small or medium-sized pastry rather than overeating multiple servings in one sitting. They should also be enjoyed as part of an otherwise balanced, whole food diet and active lifestyle.
As with any food, moderation is central to promoting wellbeing rather than weight gain and other adverse health effects. Prioritizing nutritious whole foods for most meals and snacks will allow room in your diet for enjoying Danish and other baked goods on occasion. Just don’t make a habit of them.
Healthier Alternatives to Danish Pastries
When you get a craving for the taste and texture of a Danish pastry, there are several healthier alternatives to consider:
– **Baked oatmeal** – Steel cut or old fashioned oats baked with nut butter, milk, eggs, vanilla, and your choice of mix-ins like nuts, Greek yogurt, coconut, or dark chocolate chips. This provides more fiber, vitamins, protein, and healthy fats.
– **Banana oat muffins** – Oat flour, mashed banana, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and nut butter if desired. The bananas offer natural sweetness to reduce added sugars.
– **Whole wheat coffee cake** – An olive oil or whole wheat pastry dough with less butter and sugar compared to Danish pastry dough. You can fill it with fruit and nuts instead of just frosting.
– **Croissant made with whole wheat pastry dough** – Substitute some of the white flour for whole wheat to increase the fiber and nutrients. Use mostly monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts instead of loads of butter.
– **Quiche**- Eggs, vegetables, small amounts of cheese, and herbs baked in a pie crust make a more balanced breakfast option. Accompany with side fruit and yogurt if desired.
While not perfect substitutes, these alternatives help satisfy a Danish pastry craving in a more nutritious way by including fiber, protein, and healthier fats. Home baked goods also avoid the additives found in most commercial pastries.
Healthiest Options When Choosing Danish Pastries
If you do indulge in store-bought or bakery Danish pastries, there are some better options to look for:
– **Mini or bite-sized portions** – Allows you to enjoy the treat without overdoing calories and fat in one sitting.
– **Made with real butter** – Provides more monounsaturated fat compared to trans fat-laden margarines or shortening.
– **No hydrogenated oils or artificial trans fats** – These are the most damaging types of fats for heart health.
– **Whole wheat versions** – Substituting some or all of the white flour for whole wheat increases fiber and nutrients.
– **Fruit fillings without added sugar** – Fillings using real fruit avoid excess added sugars.
– **Lower sugar glazes or toppings** – Powdered sugar or light syrup glazes add less sugar than thick icings and fondants.
– **No artificial colors or flavors** – Avoid these unnecessary additives by choosing pastries made with only real food ingredients.
Reading ingredient lists carefully and knowing the right things to look for can help minimize the health impact when treating yourself to store-bought Danish pastries. But of course, homemade versions give you full control over the quality of ingredients.
While delicious, Danish pastries are hard to justify as a nutritious breakfast choice or daily habit. Their high amounts of refined flour, added sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium, cholesterol and calories outweigh their minimal nutritional value. Eating them frequently promotes weight gain, blood sugar spikes, inflammation, and increased risk for chronic diseases over the long-term.
That said, enjoying high quality Danish pastries and other baked goods in moderation can be part of an overall balanced diet. When limiting yourself to just an occasional treat, rather than multiple times per week, the health impacts are minimized.
Be mindful of your portion sizes, and accompany your pastries with healthier sides like yogurt and fruit instead of ham or sausage. For the greatest nutrition and control over ingredients, baking your own Danish pastries at home allows you to modify the recipes to be healthier.
So savor a Danish pastry occasionally without guilt – just don’t make it a daily habit! Maintaining mostly wholesome nutrition from unprocessed foods will still allow room for enjoying these decadent treats in moderation.