It's no secret that most Americans consume sugary, fatty foods in excess -- but that doesn't mean that a healthy diet can't contain desserts. Desserts can enhance your physical and emotional wellness in numerous ways if you approach them properly. Learning more about these advantages may prompt you to feel less guilty about indulging in sweets, allowing you to eat your cake and enjoy it too. For specified guidance, seek counsel from a registered dietitian.
Improved Weight Control
In a study published in "Steroids" in March 2012, 195 obese adults consumed a low-carbohydrate diet or a diet containing the same amount of calories but included a sugary dessert as part of a high-carbohydrate, protein-rich breakfast daily. Although both groups lost similar amounts of weight, or about 33 pounds, within the first 16 weeks, the low-carbohydrate dieters gained significantly more weight back 16 weeks later than participants who ate desserts. “Most people simply regain weight, no matter what diet they are on,” said Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz -- one of the head researchers of the study at Tel Aviv University in an interview with the "New York Times." “But if you eat what you like, you decrease cravings. The cake -- a small piece -- is important.”
Desserts can also positively influence your moods. Carbohydrate-rich foods cause your brain to produce serotonin and tryptophan -- chemicals that promote emotional well-being, says Aveen Bannon, a consultant dietitian and founder of The Dublin Nutrition Centre. Because the positive feelings will probably be short lived and followed by a "crash" if you consume only refined carbohydrate sources, such as sugar cookies or candy, choose desserts containing complex carbohydrate sources, such as brown rice pudding, or pair sugary desserts with foods that promote blood sugar control, such as high-fiber and protein-rich foods. Chocolate also triggers positive moods, says Bannon, because it contains theobromine -- a natural substance that stimulates feelings of pleasure. Dark chocolate is particularly theobromine-rich.
Greater Nutrient Intake
Although desserts vary significantly in nutritional content, you can reap a variety of benefits by eating the right ones. The University of Kansas Medical Center recommends fruit- and vegetable-containing options, such as pumpkin or fruit pies and fresh fruit smoothies. To avoid excessive added sugars, incorporate fresh or frozen fruit instead of sugar-sweetened varieties. Vegetables and even sweetened fruits, however, provide antioxidants, which promote strong immune function, and fiber, which promotes digestive health, appetite control and positive cholesterol levels. Cheesecakes, parfaits and smoothies made with low-fat milk or yogurt provide valuable amounts of protein and calcium, minus the inflammatory saturated fat prevalent in high-fat milk and ice cream. To add fiber, vitamins and minerals to baked goods, replace some or all refined flour called for by recipes with 100 percent whole-grain flour.
Calories and Glucose
Your body and brain rely on calories and glucose for energy. This is one reason that dieting increases your risk for lethargy, foggy thinking, food cravings and binge eating, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating a carbohydrate-rich dessert can help reduce the feelings of physical deprivation after skipping or going too long between meals. To maintain lasting blood sugar control, however, eating balanced meals and snacks throughout each day and choosing primarily nutritious carbohydrate sources, such as whole grains, is ideal. If your appetite is low, due to stress, illness or other factors, desserts provide a useful way of consuming dense amounts of calories. And if eating solid foods is difficult and your weight is low, drinking high-calorie desserts, such as milk shakes, can help. If you've lost your appetite due to illness, consuming sugary, low-nutrient carbohydrate sources is much healthier than consuming nothing at all.
- Steroids: Meal Timing and Composition Influence Ghrelin Levels, Appetite Scores and Weight Loss Maintenance in Overweight and Obese Adults
- The New York Times: Nutrition: Dessert at Breakfast May Help Dieters
- University of Kansas Medical Center: Healthy Dessert
- National Eating Disorders Association: Know Dieting: Risks and Reasons to Stop
- National Cancer Institute: Eating Hints Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com