Health Benefits of Desserts

Ever feel like this?

Dessert deprivation is not a happy, healthy state.

In a culture that places excessive value on dieting and thinness, yet struggles increasingly with weight gain and obesity, it’s easy to view dessert as a tantalizing enemy. But according to many health experts, recovered dieters and studies, negative attitudes and avoidance of desserts—and other foods—can be more detrimental to our wellness than indulging.

But that’s not all. Desserts can actually boost our wellness. (Did she say boost?) Yep! Consider the following…

Benefits of Incorporating Desserts into a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Improved weight control.

In a recent study published in the journal Steroids, 195 obese adults followed calorie-controlled diets for 16 weeks. Both plans contained the same amount of calories and namely healthy foods, with one difference—one group consumed dessert daily. The dessert eaters lost slightly more weight than the non-dessert eaters and were significantly more successful at keeping lost pounds off.

“Most people simply regain weight, no matter what diet they are on,” Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University and lead author of the study told the New York Times. “But if you eat what you like, you decrease cravings.”

Reduced unhealthy food cravings.

Dessert benefits are particularly acute for non-dieters. Why? Because routine indulgences and some amount of flexibility in your diet prevents feelings of deprivation, which can stimulate the weight gain that prompts dieting. And viewing desserts as savory treats rather than “bad” or “junk” foods can help diminish sugar cravings while making sugary fare less tantalizing.

Another study featured by Better Health Research showed that daily intake of dark chocolate helps keep cravings for unhealthy foods at bay. Participants who ate dark chocolate also ate 15 percent fewer daily calories compared to non-chocolate eaters.

Improved nutrient intake.

We crave dense foods when our bodies are lacking nutrients or calories. And eating too little is one of the top contributors to food cravings, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

In some cases, a rich dessert is just the fuel your body and brain needs—particularly if you consume too few carbohydrates. Are desserts the healthiest source of carbohydrates? Not usually. But consuming enough carbohydrates from any source is healthier than severely restricting or skipping them altogether.

Desserts can also provide essential nutrients from whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and even vegetables. Consider the following:

  • Pumpkin pie contains rich amounts of fiber, calcium and vitamins A and C. One standard slice provides of 260% of adults’ recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
  • This strawberry rhubarb crisp with an oatmeal crust provides a full serving of fruit per serving and valuable amounts of B-vitamins, fiber and healthy fats.
  • Cheesecake provides valuable amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Blueberry pie provides plentiful antioxidants and about 8 grams of fiber per slice—about one-third of women’s daily minimum and one-quarter of men’s.
  • Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and can have a positive impact on blood sugar control and heart-health. (The darker, the better.)
  • Oatmeal raisin cookies provide valuable amounts of fiber, B-vitamins, calcium and iron.
  • One cup of slow-churned ice cream provides 12 percent of adult’s daily calcium needs and as much protein as an egg.

Desserts should not replace nutritious whole foods in your diet, of course, but it’s nice to know that they aren’t devoid of nutrients. If you love sweets, the following tips can help keep your sweet teeth happy without compromising your wellness.

5 Ways to Have Your ‘Cake’ and Stay Healthy, Too

1. Go for quality, not quantity. It can be tempting to stock up on affordable or “diet” style desserts that seem oh-so-healthy. In reality, desserts made from natural, high-quality ingredients tend to be more satisfying. Artificial sweeteners and desserts that taste “diet-y” can leave us hungry (and reaching) for more.

2. To prevent blood sugar imbalances, pair sugary sweets with fiber or protein-rich foods. Because fiber and protein have a mellowing impact on blood sugar, foods like whole grains, berries, low-fat milk and yogurt, help keep us fuller longer and guard against dreaded crashes. Top ice cream with raspberries, for example, or have sorbet after a balanced meal.

3. Don’t torture yourself with dozens of accessible faves. If your one donut tends to bring along friends and one cookie seems foreign, keep tempting fare out of reach. Like our diets, our kitchens should contain moderate amounts of sugary sweets at most. Recovering dieters are especially prone to the “feast or famine” mentality. As your attitudes about food and eating improve, the tempting nature of desserts will reduce, leaving you more capable of portion control. In the meantime, take yourself out for a single ice cream cone or slice of pie rather than rushing to Costco.

4. Top it with fruit. Or fruit with it. Most Americans fall short of the daily recommended 2 cups+ of fruits per day. (More is better.) There’s no time like dessert-time to start changing that. You’ll likely end up eating less of the cake/cookies/ice cream/pie, feel more satisfied—without feeling stuffed, and take a leap toward your antioxidant and fiber needs. A sweet win-win, in my opinion.

5. Eat more whole foods. The more whole foods we eat, the more our taste buds love them. As a kid, I ate sugar cubes from the bowl and plowed through my Halloween candy in days. Now that I eat namely whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish…), sugary sweets are too sugary. Some seem darn near flavorless. If you don’t currently eat healthy variations of conventional desserts, such as whole grain cakes, all-fruit pies and pumpkin tofu cheesecake (YUM!), I suggest trying it. And the more whole foods you incorporate into your overall diet, the better.

What do you love most about desserts?  Do you enjoy them with ease or grapple with guilt?  As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions.  I’m having so much fun with this, I’ve decided to carry the dessert party on via Twitter (#HealthySweet) today—sharing factoids, tips and more. Hope to see you and your sweet-teeth there. 😉