When it comes to eating healthfully, most people wonder where sweets fit in, especially if they are overweight or on a diet. Desserts, chips, junk food, and most sweets are usually the first to go when slashing calories.
Not so fast, say the experts.
Whether your family prefers dessert after dinner or an afternoon treat, sweets can be part of a balanced diet as long as you pay attention to portion sizes and choose healthier treats.
If you control the quantity, you can satisfy your sweet tooth or salty craving every day. “Everyone should allow themselves a daily treat because there is no reason why a 100- or 200-calorie snack can’t fit into a healthy diet” says Nashville’s nutrition expert, Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD.
When you want more than a special treat that has a few hundred calories, earn it by being more physically active, say the experts.
WebMD consulted nutrition experts for eight ways to fit sweets and treats into a balanced diet.
1. Stock Up With Healthy Choices
Don’t just count calories. Instead, try to make every calorie count because snacks and treats can be nutritious. “Kids get 25% of their calories from snacks, so you want to them to be as nutritious as possible,” advises Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, a mother of three.
Choose treats or desserts that have 100 to 200 calories and contain some nutritional benefits.
“Read the nutrition label to choose treats that provide some nutrients, especially ones that tend to be missing in our diets like fiber, calcium, and whole grains” says Bedwell. Choose baked chips, low-fat baked goods, and candy made with dark chocolate, nuts, or dried fruit.
2. Go Natural for Dessert
Kids clamor for dessert and they can have it most nights if you make it a healthy one. Rely on Mother Nature, and use fruit as the base for desserts.
“Fruit is naturally sweet; abundant this time of year, super nutritious, and everyone loves it. So make it the dessert of choice” says American Dietetic Association spokesperson, Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD. Serve fruit cut up with a dollop of dairy topping. Or use fruit to top angel food cake, low-fat pudding, or ice cream. Fruit lets you increase the portion size and nutritional goodness of desserts.
There is nothing wrong with an occasional calorie-dense piece of cake, a cookie, or candy, but these are so easy to overeat and the small portion is not nearly as satisfying, says Blake.
3. Limit the Variety of Sweets
Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to controlling calories, less is more. The greater the variety of food, the more you want to eat, studies show.
“Kids and adults gravitate to treats, so limit what you bring into the house to reduce temptation,” says Ward. Restrict your treats to one type of cookie, candy, chip, or ice cream.