When the sight of a seven-layer chocolate cake in the bakery gives you whiplash, it's probably a sign that your sweet tooth needs some attention. Pastries and candies may give you a sugar rush, but they also provide little nutritional value. Plenty of sweet treats contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, allowing you to sweeten up your meal, or end it on a sweet and healthy note.
A rich and creamy piece of dark chocolate satisfies your nagging sweet tooth, and it also provides a few benefits to your health. The cacao solids in dark chocolate contain flavanols, powerful antioxidants that may protect against chronic disease. In a study published in 2012 by the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” dark chocolate flavanols reduced heart disease risk and improved blood sugar levels. Milk chocolate does not offer the same benefits, because it only contains 6 percent cacao solids versus 23 to 90 percent in dark chocolate varieties. Keep your servings of this tasty indulgence small, because dark chocolate has a high fat content. One ounce of dark chocolate with 45 to 59 percent cacao solids contains 155 calories and 9 grams of fat.
A common sight on dinner tables during the fall, sweet potatoes make a nutritious addition to your meals all year long. One 5-inch sweet potato with skin provides 112 calories, 2 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, a vital plant carbohydrate that promotes good digestive health, lowers cholesterol levels and may reduce your risk of heart disease. One sweet potato contains 561 percent of your daily recommendation of vitamin A, a disease-fighting antioxidant that also plays vital roles in eye, heart and kidney function. Add a few slices of sweet potato to your veggie wrap to sweeten up your lunch, or make a savory side dish with chopped sweet potatoes, peppers, brown rice and your favorite herbs.
With a taste as sweet as candy, blueberries provide a guilt-free way to satisfy your sweet craving. One cup of fresh blueberries contains only 84 calories, 0.5 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber. Blueberries also contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that may protect against chronic diseases and age-related memory loss. In a study published in 2012 by the “Annals of Neurology,” adults who ate blueberries frequently had a lower risk of memory loss than adults who rarely ate blueberries. These powerful fruits may also lead to promising new cancer treatments. In a study published in 2004 by the “Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry,” the antioxidants in blueberries slowed the growth of colon and breast cancer cells. For a touch of sweetness, top your salad with fresh blueberries or make a sauce with blueberry puree for your grilled and baked meat entrees.
Convenient, portable and non-perishable, dried fruit provides an easy way to boost your fruit servings. Dried fruit tastes sweeter than fresh varieties, because the dehydration process increases the concentration of the natural sugar in the fruit. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, are often lost during the dehydration process, but dried fruit is a good source of fiber and potassium, the mineral that balances water in your body and controls your blood pressure. Make your own trail mix with dried fruit and nuts or enjoy a fruity side dish made with dried fruit, whole-wheat couscous and a tablespoon of peanut oil.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of Chocolate, Cocoa, and Flavan-3-ols on Cardiovascular Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Trials
- Mayo Clinic: Chocolate That is Good for You In Small Amounts
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Chocolate, Dark, 45 to 59 Percent Cacao Solids
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Sweet Potato, Raw, Unprepared
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
- USDA Nutrient Database: Blueberries, Fresh
- Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry: Inhibition of Cancer Cell Proliferation In Vitro by Fruit and Berry Extracts and Correlations with Antioxidant Levels.
- Annals of Neurology: Dietary Intakes of Berries and Flavonoids in Relation to Cognitive Decline
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Is Fresh Fruit Much Healthier Than Dried Fruit?
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images