With the holidays upon us, we seem to be surrounded by tempting snacks and desserts. And the conventional wisdom is to avoid these treats if we have any regard for our calorie count and our waistlines. But desserts have gotten a bad rap. In fact, with the right ingredients and when enjoyed in moderation, desserts can be an important part of a healthy diet.A delicious source of nutrients.
Desserts don't have to be high sugar/empty calorie detours from a healthy diet. When you choose desserts containing fruits and vegetables, such as pies made from berries or pumpkin, you get a dose of healthy antioxidants and fiber, which can help with brain health and cholesterol control. The trick is to choose desserts made with fresh or frozen fruit. The processed alternatives have too much added sugar.
For dairy desserts, skip the ice cream and go with choices made with yogurt or low-fat milk, like low-fat cheesecake or smoothies. You'll get beneficial doses of nutrients like calcium and protein, without unnecessary amounts of added sugar and fat.
Sweeten up your mood.
The wrong desserts can give you a “sugar high” that doesn't last and is followed by a crash -- a boost in stress hormones --- that can last as long as five hours. If you skip refined sugar desserts and choose treats with complex carbohydrates -- brown rice pudding instead of sugar cookies, for example --- you may get a positive mood swing that doesn't let you down. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is another feel-good dessert. It's loaded with theobromine, a chemical that triggers feelings of well-being.
A treat for heart and brain health.
Speaking of chocolate, it's thought that it can help fight inflammation and enhance the properties of the immune system thanks to the presence of flavonoids in the cocoa. Dark chocolate also seems to have benefits for heart health. Simply eating a single bite daily lowered participants’ blood pressure in a 2011 Harvard study. Another study showed a reduced risk of stroke in men who regularly indulged in a small sample of dark chocolate. Since cocoa appears to be the magic bullet in chocolate’s health advantages, make sure you choose varieties with at least 65% cocoa.
Desserts may even help with weight control.
Cutting down on cravings --- and the binge eating that can follow --- is one effective weight-loss tool. By giving yourself permission to indulge in dessert and using moderation in your portions, you can satisfy your sweet tooth in a responsible way. Using slow, mindful eating during dessert by savoring every bite can also reward your pleasure center and give you a full and satisfied feeling.
Desserts to boost your brain.
When you choose low sugar desserts with healthy brain boosting ingredients like nuts, berries and dark chocolate, as well as spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, you can satisfy your craving for a yummy snack while also giving your body the tools it needs to help promote mental acuity.
The MemoryMeals® program available at leading senior living communities is loaded with dozens of dessert recipes designed around brain-healthy ingredients. The growing list of choices includes scrumptious snacks like Orange Poppyseed Cake, Cranberry Muffins, Blackberry Jam Cookies, Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse and Banana Ice Cream.
With the right ingredients, desserts can be savored instead of shunned. So give yourself permission to indulge --- in moderation, of course --- with your choice of healthy and delicious ways to end the perfect meal.