Let’s face it: Almost all of us have a weak spot for some sweet indulgence. Whether it’s chocolate, ice cream, cookies, cake, or doughnuts, life would be pretty darn blah without a treat from time to time. And we’re not talking about trying to fool yourself into thinking a baby carrot is actually a Snickers bar. We’re talking about the real stuff.
The first piece of advice you should follow, says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet, is “Dump the fat-free desserts.”
“Ounce for ounce, most fat-free desserts are just as calorie-rich as the higher-fat version,” says Somer. “And even if they are low-cal, you aren’t giving yourself a leg up by eating a whole box.”
If it’s chocolate you’re craving, then nothing but chocolate will do, says Somer. She suggests cutting up any kind of fruit you like -- strawberries, bananas, pineapples, and melons are good choices -- and then dipping the pieces in chocolate syrup (dipping in, rather than pouring on, will help you keep a handle on the calories). This gives you the chocolate taste you want with the nutritional value of the fruit.
You can also indulge your chocolate fantasies, Somer says, with a mug of hot chocolate (made from high-quality cocoa or chocolate bars, not the powdered instant variety), or a couple of Mallomars (those chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies that are only available from September through March -- buy ahead and put in the refrigerator or freezer so you can ride out the hot summer months when the cookies aren’t produced).
Or try a square or two of a creamy dark (as opposed to milk) chocolate, such as Dove, which is not only satisfying but rich in antioxidants too, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy for The Cleveland Clinic. A few (and that means just a few -- read the label for serving size) Hershey’s kisses or miniature Hershey's bars can also feed your chocolate fix without derailing your diet.
Fruit and Creamy Sweets
If you’re in the mood for something creamy, flavored yogurt or plain yogurt that you can mix with honey and fruit can often do the trick. So can small portions of pudding; the pudding cups you pack in your child’s lunchbox are ideal. If it’s ice cream that you really want, says Moore, skip the scoop-yourself containers and buy single-serving novelty treats such as fudgesicles, creamsicles, even chocolate-covered ice cream bars. You’re more likely to limit your portions if they already come in a single serving, Moore says.
Fruit is a great sweet treat, says Audrey T. Cross, PhD, JD, MPH, associate clinical professor of nutrition and director of the Healthy Monday Campaign at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. To make fruit seem more like dessert and less like something you should be eating, Cross offers these suggestions:
- Drizzle a bit of honey over mixed melon balls.
- Blend bananas and strawberries, freeze into cubes, and eat like ice cream.
- Sauté or bake 1/2 banana and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chopped nuts.
- Take three of your favorite kinds of berries; cook half of them with just enough water to prevent burning. Cool and stir in remaining berries. Portion 1/2 cup of the berry compote with 1 tablespoon of your favorite vanilla ice cream.
Many nutritionists agree that when it comes to sweet treats, it’s not really what you eat, but how much and how often. “Small indulgences, even once a day, are fine,” says Cindy Moore.
“Size is what really counts,” emphasizes Carla Wolper, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutritionist at the Center for Women’s Health at Columbia University Medical Center Eastside in New York. “If you tempt yourself and buy five cookies or five chocolate squares, you will be consuming a lot of calories,” says Wolper, explaining that a pound has 3,500 calories, and a mere candy bar a day, at 250 calories beyond what your body needs to stay at your current weight, will pack on an additional 26 pounds by the end of the year.
So the bottom line, says Wolper, is eat the “real thing” if you want, but instead of “supersizing,” try “downsizing” instead.
“You can limit your calories but still treat your taste buds,” says Wolper.