Sticking with a healthy eating plan can be hard. We often equate “eating healthy” with “no sweets,” but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can enjoy desserts and still eat healthy, if you follow just eat smart.

At Vitaerobics, we believe in the 90-10 rule. This means that you should eat healthy 90% of the time, but also leave yourself some space for small indulgences. These “treats” will keep you from feeling deprived of the foods you love and make staying on that healthy eating plan much easier. You can still enjoy dessert if you eat smart and learn to make some healthy substitutions. The key is to pay attention to what you are eating and eat it in moderation.

Here are 6 tips for enjoying dessert without feeling guilty:

#1: Select what you eat carefully. Not every carrot cake or chocolate chip cookie is created the same. Some have loads of extra butter, nuts or frosting. You can still eat great tasting desserts, but pick the ones with less fat and sugar. For packaged desserts, make sure you read the Nutrition Facts and Ingredients panels. These tell you what’s really in the product.

And, remember that the numbers shown in the Nutrition Facts panel are for a single serving only. Make sure you note the “Serving Size” shown at the top of the Nutrition Facts panel. We often eat far more than what the manufacturer recommends as a “standard serving.” For example, the serving size shown on the Oreo package is just 3 cookies! The serving size shown on most Ben & Jerry’s ice cream containers is just 1/2 cup (that’s 4 servings in a single 16 ounce container)!

#2: Apply the “5 Bites” rule. Studies show that we get the most pleasure from the first 3-5 bites of any particular food. After that, our taste buds are “dulled” and the pleasure is reduced. So, next time you’re served an indulgent dessert, try applying the 5 bites rule. Take 5 small bites and really enjoy each one. Focus on the taste, the aroma, and the texture of each bite. Hold the bite in your mouth for a few seconds and really enjoy it.

Then, put your fork or spoon down and do something else. If you’re with someone, talk to them for five to ten minutes without eating. If you’re by yourself, read a book or magazine. After five to ten minutes, if you still want more of the dessert, then go ahead and eat another 5 small bites and repeat the process. For most people, those first 5 bites will be enough to satisfy their sweet tooth and they won’t need any more.

#3: Pick fruit first. Some fruit, especially pineapple, plum and mango, can be the basis for great desserts because they are naturally sweet. They also include lots of vitamins and fiber, so they are much better for you than cookies or cakes. Fruit does contain a lot of sugar, but it’s natural sugar and not added sugar.

Fresh fruit is also calorie sparse and that’s a good thing. Calorie sparse foods contain fewer calories per unit (e.g., per ounce, per cup, per serving, etc.). In other words, you can eat more of these foods while still consuming fewer calories. Think about a pear for example. An entire pear contains just 80 or so calories. That’s less than one Oreo cookie, yet the pear takes much longer to eat, and because of the fiber, it tends to fill you up too. Try a fresh fruit parfait or just cut up some fruit and top with whipped cream.

#4: Substitute in recipes. If you’re making your own desserts, try substituting healthier ingredients to reduce the fat, sugar and calories. Apple sauce is a great substitute for oil or butter in baking. You can replace nearly all the oil of butter with an equal amount of apple sauce (I still like to use a small amount of oil because it helps the baked item release from the pan).

You can also cut the amount of sugar in many recipes by as much as 1/4 or 1/2 and barely even notice the difference. When you need more flavor, try reducing the sugar and adding cinnamon or orange rind. Whole wheat flour is a great substitute for 1/2 of the white flour when making cakes, muffins or cookies. And a dab of frozen yogurt makes a great dessert topping in place of the usual ice cream or whipped cream.

#5: Go for the (dark) chocolate. If you really need a “chocolate hit” then go for the dark. Dark chocolate is healthier for you because it contains more phytonutrients and anti-oxidants than milk chocolate. Like red wine, chocolate is a great source of bioflavonoids, and the fats in chocolate seem to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.

Dark chocolate has the highest concentration of cocoa solids and that’s where the health benefits are. Milk chocolate mixes cocoa with milk solids, cream, sugar and other sweeteners. This adds calories and reduces the concentration of cocoa solids. If you’re used to milk chocolate, then dark chocolate may take some getting used to. But, trust me, once you adjust your taste buds to dark chocolate, you’ll never want to go back to plain, tasteless milk chocolate again!

#6: Drink your dessert. You don’t have to eat dessert. Instead, try a fruit smoothie or milk shake for dessert. Milk shakes can pack in a lot of calories, but you will likely find that you’re satisfied with just a few ounces. Because of their liquid volume, they are more filling and since you just finished a meal, you should have less “volume” to fill. And, when eating out, you can split one with a friend.

So, go ahead and enjoy dessert! Just be smart about it.

To learn more about how to get your kids to eat healthy, check out our FREE ebook, Do You Wish Your Kid’s Ate Better?

Remember, healthy choices each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
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You may also want to read: Quick, Healthy Dessert Ideas, Small Changes, Big Results, Gluten Free is Not Necessarily Healthy

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