Managing Your Sweet Tooth (May 9, 2013)

For my May 9 article about dessert cravings, Managing Your Sweet Tooth, click here or keep reading!

 

I’m often asked about the most challenging aspect of maintaining a really clean diet.

No snacking? No problem! Waiving goodbye to the burgers? Easy! I can avoid butter, cheese and fries with ease. But no dessert?

That hurts.

I can keep sane with the healthiest of healthy diets, but take sweets away from me and within two days, not only will I fall off the wagon, but I’ll likely fall off the wagon with a pint (or two) of Ben and Jerry’s. Not ideal.

When I describe this to people, I almost always am the recipient of not only empathy, but vigorous nods of understanding and agreement. There are a lot of us dessert lovers out there — and no matter how aware we are of the calories and fat in the double chocolate brownie, we still crave it.

What is it about the sugary, sweet goodness that is just so … good?

The ugly truth is that, in part, we inflict this dessert-related-torture on ourselves. Habits are hard to break, and if you’re in the habit of having something sweet after dinner, that habit will likely stick with you. It takes serious willpower and dedication to break any habit, let alone a habit that tastes as good as a Double Stuf Oreo.

But don’t fret just yet. Your sweet tooth isn’t only in your head.

According to studies conducted by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The University of California, sugar almost immediately boosts serotonin levels. A neurotransmitter manufactured in the brain, serotonin greatly affects not only sleep patterns, libido, and concentration, but mood as well. So, we feel intense pleasure in both our taste buds and our brains nearly the second we bite into that chocolate bar.

We do not, though, feel that same intense pleasure when we can’t zip up our jeans after a steady stream of desserts. So what’s a girl (or a boy) to do — can we have our cake and eat it too?

Thankfully, yes.

Though the double-whipped, extra-chocolate, gooey caramel fudge cake will get your pleasure synapses firing, it isn’t the only option to get the job done. There are healthy, low-calorie desserts out there that will keep you satisfied and bikini ready.

Fruit is an old standby if you’d like something sweet without breaking the calorie bank. But let’s face it — a plain, old orange every night after dinner isn’t exactly a perfect substitute for a slice of cheesecake.

To avoid getting too bored with your fruit routine, try experimenting with your selections. Grab a papaya, a guava, and a star fruit, and enjoy complex and new flavours that leave you satiated and happy. Don’t be afraid to get adventurous with otherwise predictable fruit. Try roasting your strawberries, reducing your raspberries with balsamic vinegar, or adding black pepper to thin sliced fruit. These tricks will make an every day fruit seem special, keeping you both happy and healthy.

Another fruit option? This time of year I love to pop a bag of grapes in the freezer. The flavours in the fruit intensify while frozen, leaving you with a delicious, low-calorie dessert that’ll cool you off on even the hottest days. In the winter, try making a baked apple with almonds and agave nectar—you’ll feel like you died and went to dessert heaven, for under 100 calories!

Normally thought of the morning staple of the gym crowd, a smoothie is another great way to tackle your dessert cravings. Throw some frozen fruit, fat-free greek yogourt, and unsweetened almond milk into your blender, and you’ll end up with a rich and creamy dessert chock-a-block with vitamins and minerals.

If fruit isn’t up your alley, you can always treat yourself to some extra dark chocolate after dinner. Full of antioxidants and flavonols (which promote blood flow and relaxing of the arteries), rich dark chocolate will leave you satisfied after only a few bites.

Finally, when you’re baking sweet treats at home, making a few small substitutions can make a big difference on your waistline. Try replacing butter with applesauce, oil with greek yogourt, egg whites for eggs, and Splenda, Stevia, or Truvia for sugar. If you can’t stomach the taste of the artificial sweeteners, try a half-and-half method. If your recipe calls for one cup of sugar, add half a cup of sweetener and half a cup of the real stuff. You won’t even taste the difference! These tricky substitutions will keep your baked goods tasting moist, decadent, and homemade for a fraction of the calories.

Don’t forget my general rule; nearly everything homemade tastes better than the prepackaged, store-bought options out there. Remember, if you make it at home, you know what is in it, and, more importantly, what isn’t in it. Experiment and get your hands dirty. Playing around with healthy ingredients is exactly how I stumbled upon the accompanying recipe, which is, bar none, my favourite clean dessert around.

Remember these tips, and enjoy dessert without fear.

Molly’s Chocolate Banana “Ice Cream”

This vegan, gluten-free, and shockingly delicious dessert is the perfect summer treat. It’ll satisfy the sweet tooth of everyone at your table — from kids to hockey players to calorie counters, everyone loves it! Not chalky or syrupy sweet like most diet-friendly dessert options, this “ice cream” tastes as creamy and naughty as actual ice cream, but with 0% regret. If you aren’t keen on chocolate, try omitting the cocoa powder and adding some vanilla protein powder.

You’ll need:

1 banana, frozen and cut into pieces

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Splash of almond milk (skim works, too)

Optional: tsp. of creamy peanut butter

Place all of your ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth (usually about 30 seconds to one minute). Scoop into an ice cream bowl and enjoy the creamiest, most decadent healthy dessert around.