food

Burning health question: "Can I have dessert every day?"

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Because I am the worst the best health and fitness writer everrrrrr, I eat dessert regularly. Almost every day. Sometimes *cough* twice a day, if there’s something particularly good on offer.

And no, I’m not talking about having one square of dark chocolate after dinner, or a piece of fruit. I’m talking about REAL dessert. Magnums and chocolate mousse and cake and cronuts and Messina and Tim Tams and M&Ms and apple pie and ice blocks and Max Brenner waffles.

A real dessert

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To me, life is too short to not enjoy the delicious items on offer. In situations where eating dessert before dinner is socially acceptable, I will totally go down that path.

The problem is, of course, that dessert is a sometimes-food. These days, we are constantly told that sugar is evil and it's going to kill you and your entire family.

By eating something sweet every day - even if it was just one of those teeny, individually-wrapped Tim Tams, which are delicious, but let's be honest, not really enough - I quickly convinced myself that I was going to end up with diabetes by the age of 25. So I decided to consult some experts and get them to weigh in on exactly how often you can eat dessert - and what you should be eating.

Not quite enough...

I spoke to Professor Merlin Thomas, who is the Adjunct Professor of Preventative Medicine at the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.

I also spoke to Accredited Practicing Dietitian McGuckin, a spokesperson from the DAA.

Together, they told me...

Yes, you can eat dessert every day.

Professor Thomas explains that our biggest health problem isn't dessert - our biggest health problem is becoming overweight.

"This only happens when the total amount of energy we consume is greater than the amount we burn up in our metabolism," Professor Thomas explains. "We then store this extra energy as fat, initially under the skin, and in our bums, thighs, and breasts. When those depots are full, excess energy is captured in and around our internal organs, which significantly contributes to diabetes, heart disease and cancer as we get older."

So it's really all about energy consumed vs energy burned off. If you're consuming a lot of energy - and sweet things have a LOT of energy - and yet not really moving your body...

"It’s easy to understand how sweet things every day can tip the balance in favour of weight gain, as most of us do not do enough activity to burn off what we take in," Professor Thomas explains.

So if you do want to eat dessert - try to go for something that's also high in nutrients.

Lauren explains that the DAA encourages people to incorporate dessert if they are still hungry after dinner.

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"However, it's good to go for something more high in nutrients than energy," she says. "Look at what you’ve eaten throughout the rest of the day. That’ll determine what you choose to eat. For example, a lot of people skip out on calcium throughout the day - so go for something that's high in calcium, like yoghurt or custard."

All hail the bald man

But if you really want that ice-cream or chocolate or cake or Max Brenner waffle...

Lauren explains that these items are best enjoyed on occasion, rather than an overall day, as they're high in fat and high in energy.

"If you know you're going to be eating something that's very energy dense later - for example, if you're going to a birthday party later, and know you're going to be eating lots of cake - make sure you're not eating anything too energy-dense for the rest of the day," she says. "Have a lighter lunch – salad with tuna in it – and have some fruit and yoghurt for breakfast instead of starchy carbohydrate."

Professor Thomas also explains that it can be really hard to cut out sweet things entirely. "Sweet things are also represent a major source of pleasure and comfort, and we really miss them when they are gone," he explains. "Usually it is much easier to “swap it” rather than stop it. So give up takeaway pizza instead of dessert."

So basically? Pay attention to energy and swap out one high-energy, low-nutrient food for another. Easy.

Dessert and wine - a match made in heaven

Yes, you should make your own dessert.

"You can work on reinvigorating your dessert menu to try some exciting sweet but not-so-energy dense options," Professor Thomas says. "See if you can’t find something equally yummy (and sweet) with half as much calories per serve than you are having now. Make it a challenge! The internet is full of recipes. And no, it doesn’t have to taste like cardboard or be too weird or foreign."

Lauren encourages everyone to try different, healthier recipes that fill some kind of nutritional gap.

"If you're baking, use things like dried fruits rather than choc chips, and look at ways of halving the sugar content," she says. "Add nuts and seeds. Apple sauce is also a great alternative in cakes and adds some sweetness."

Also? Pay attention to portion sizes. "You don't need a cookie the size of your head," Lauren says.

Ultimately, try not to deprive yourself - because an unhealthy mindset may equal an unhealthy body.

"These days, people are cutting things out and eliminating or demonising particular food groups," Lauren says. "But all these food groups, all in moderation, form a picture of a healthy diet in an individual."

As a result? "I never say no to people if they really want to include something in their diet. I add variety and options, I teach them about portion reduction and I show them how to implement various food items to suit their bodies and lifestyles. At the moment, extreme is sexy - I'm trying to make moderation sexy."

You see that? Go ahead and have the Magnum - as long as you're not having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

Do you eat dessert every day?

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