Saturday, 13 September 2014

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

I’m going to be honest here and say it makes me sad to imagine a world without dessert. I’m a self-confessed dessert fiend and I’ll have something sweet after dinner most nights. My family and friends can vouch for that- if I turn down dessert they know something’s wrong!

Many of you are probably thinking that as a Dietitian, shouldn’t I be eating healthily, like, all the time? The truth is I’m just like you, I have my vices, and dessert is one of them! So I wanted to answer a question I commonly get asked:

Can I still eat dessert if I’m trying to be healthy?

The answer is: Yes! But it does depend what you consider ‘dessert’ and how much you have of it.

The reasons why dessert has made it into the dieting bad books:
  1. Often eaten after a large meal, when we’re not hungry, making it unnecessary kilojoules (or calories) which can be difficult to burn off if all you’re doing after eating it is relaxing on the couch then going to bed.
  2. Typically laden with excess sugar and fat, particularly pre-packaged and restaurant types.
  3. Extras like whipped cream, ice cream or icing sugar, which can really add up.
  4. Can provoke a night time binge that starts with a bowl of ice cream, gets followed by some chocolate and finished with a few bickies. 

How to make dessert part of a healthy diet
  • Don’t eat if you are truly stuffed after dinner (a feeling we want to try and avoid at any meal).
  • Dessert should be small and not a hugely significant energy contribution to your diet- practice the art of mindful eating if you struggle with this one.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and processed desserts and instead choose desserts made from wholefoods. Cooking, or preparing, it yourself is generally the best option so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
  • Make dessert contribute positively to your nutrient intake in some way- whether it be a source of  calcium, fibre, protein or antioxidants (from dairy, whole grains, nuts, fruit, etc).
  • Reduce your portion size- if you enjoy making your own sweet treats, cut the cake or slice into smaller pieces than the recipe recommends and avoid going back for seconds.
  • Dessert shouldn’t really be a habit. Always ask yourself ‘do I really feel like this?’. If the honest answer is no, then it would just be a waste to eat it- save it for a time when you know you’d really enjoy it!
  • And who said dessert has to be ice cream or cake? When I think of dessert I think of sweet, but that doesn't mean you're limited to ‘dessert’ foods. How about yoghurt with berries? Or a hot chocolate? Or a muesli slice? Or even a handful of trail mix or dry cereal? 

Healthier dessert options
  • Fruit salad with yoghurt.
  • Milk based rice, semolina or sago pudding.
  • Baked ricotta with berries.
  • Homemade cake lower in sugar and butter, made with wholemeal flour and flavoured with fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut or nuts.
  • Individual serves of (ricotta-based) cheesecake, pudding, cake or pie, baked in a muffin tin or small ramekins. 

Links to some of my healthier sweet treat recipes:

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