Can Dessert Ever Be a Part of a Healthy Diet for a Senior?

Time and again, we all hear that desserts are a major no-no if you want to maintain a healthy diet. We are talking about those luscious desserts filled with sugar and other ingredients that scientifically are linked to unhealthy weight gain and increased risk of diseases, including everything from cancer to type 2 diabetes.

With such an intro, you may understandably think this article will be another rant about the unhealthy nature of traditional desserts. In fact, in this article, we look at whether rich, sweet desserts can be part of a healthy diet for a senior. Remember that we are not talking about desserts like cut-up fresh fruit. We really are speaking of sugary sweets and the like.

In reviewing some relatively recent research, we’ve found that having a delectable, decadent dessert once in a while may be a useful, effective tool for maintaining a generally healthy diet. The key is learning to strategically take advantage of enjoying desserts.

Research Study on Strategically Eating Desserts

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied revealed how strategically using delectable desserts can actually result in people eating healthier overall. In this study, researchers learned that people who ate what can be called a decadent dessert at the beginning of their meal rather than at the end selected a healthier meal overall. The study even revealed that many individuals who selected a delectable dessert at the start of a meal but did not eat it first also ate an overall healthier meal.

“If we choose something healthy first, then this gives us a license to choose something bigger later,” says Martin Reimann, an assistant professor of marketing and cognitive science at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study. “If you turn it around and choose something heavier early on, then this license is already expired.” Making a calorie-heavy choice first seems to unconsciously steer people to “put the foot on the brake a little” as they decide what else to eat.

Pay Attention to Portion Size

When considering healthy eating, we often read and hear about portion sizes. Dieticians maintain that overall, Americans eat portions of foods of all types that are unnecessarily large – in many cases, to the point that even meals that generally feature nutritious items become less than ideally healthy.

When it comes to including desserts in an otherwise healthy diet, close attention must be paid to the portion size of a dessert. If a senior wants to include desserts in an otherwise healthy diet, that person is wise to ensure that a portion size truly is modest.

If a senior enjoyed a piece of a pie, have a half piece instead. The practice of halving portions of delectable desserts is at least a start in incorporating healthier eating practices regarding sweets.

Beyond Portion Size: Other Considerations in Regard to Desserts

We do make mention of some general thoughts about portion size and other tactics that are worth considering in this specific discussion about including desserts in an otherwise healthy diet:

  • Read labels: Food labels can be misleading at times, so be sure that you are reading any label on a premade dessert. You will often think that a packaged dessert contains a certain number of calories, say 250 calories, for example. However, upon closer inspection, you learn that there may be 3 servings in the package. This results in 750 calories, which is likely between one-third to one-half of the total amount of calories you should be consuming on a particular day. You need to bear in mind that you always need to read nutrition labels for more than just the calorie count.
  • Measure food: Americans are used to “super-size” servings, including desserts. When indulging in desserts from time to time, go back to the basics of measuring out dessert (and other foods, for that matter).
  • Use smaller plates: A smaller plate can give the helpful illusion that you are having a generous dessert when you are eating a more modest portion. The reality is that leaving too much extra space on a plate will often make you feel deprived.
  • Be aware of mindless eating: Often, we may think we have decreased our portion sizes but forget about the snacks in between. And oftentimes, those snacks are sweets and desserts. Snacking on desserts is not strategically using these pleasurable sweets, as was discussed previously.
  • Watch out when dining out: When it comes to eating, we are all guilty of overindulging. Take care when having a dessert when dining out. Perhaps consider sharing one dessert between the people you are dining with so that everyone gets a taste of a treat during a meal out.

Make Rich Desserts an Occasional Indulgence

A key step that you can take to incorporate decadent desserts into an otherwise healthy diet is to eat these types of sweets only occasionally. Perhaps set aside a couple of days each week in which you will enjoy a sweet, rich dessert. On those occasions you have not scheduled eating a sugary dessert, you can have other desserts that feature items like fresh fruits.

When it comes to reducing the amount you eat in the way of sugary desserts, you can use a strategy to gradually reduce the quantity of these items you consume. Time and again, people who take a proverbial cold turkey approach to lower the amount of dessert eaten end up failing. They revert to eating the amount of sweet desserts that had been their habit. Worse yet, there are plenty of examples in which these individuals actually find themselves eating more sugary desserts than they previously consumed before the cold turkey temporary stop. In the final analysis, a senior can include desserts in an otherwise healthy diet. However, consuming sugary desserts must be done with an eye toward moderation and reasonableness.