I’m a Nutritionist and I Eat Dessert Every Day—Here’s Why
Listening to some official reports about sugar and health, you might think that sweet foods are a curse straight from the netherworld. Greater consumption of sugar has been linked to increased risk of everything from obesity to higher odds of heart disease to disrupted mental health. These are real, serious effects of overdoing it on the sweet stuff — and, in general, we would all do well to limit desserts. The American Heart Association recommends capping added sugars at 6% of our daily calories, and some diet plans even make the case for eating sugar only from natural sources like fruit.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a nutritionist and I eat dessert every day.
As a health professional, this feels like a shocking confession. (I keep waiting for the summons to nutritionist jail.) After all, since I advise others on diet and health, shouldn’t I lead by example? Believe it or not, for me, eating a moderately-sized dessert every day is actually part of my healthy lifestyle toolkit. Here’s why.
The importance of food enjoyment
Food is one of the greatest sources of everyday joy in many of our lives — mine included. Even when my circumstances are less than ideal and pleasure is hard to find elsewhere, I can count on delicious desserts to bring that much-needed “ahhh.” (If you’ve ever reached for a chocolate bar when feeling overwhelmed, you can probably attest to its stress-relieving effects.)
This isn’t just in our heads — it’s science! A 2014 study showed that eating dark or milk chocolate helped reduce perceived stress in women. In a world of stressors, it’s a small miracle to me that a quick antidote is readily available in the form of sweets.
As a busy mom, I consider the dopamine boost of a piece of chocolate or a small cookie an easily accessible, inexpensive form of self-care. (Hey, it’s a whole lot cheaper than a spa day.) And because, since childhood, I’ve always gravitated toward sweets over savory foods, I’ve decided that denying myself something that brings so much enjoyment would decrease my sense of well-being. In fact, removing desserts from my routine would disrupt what I consider a healthy, happy relationship with food I love.
Intriguingly, some research has even associated mindful food enjoyment with positive dietary behavior outcomes like better diet quality and food choices. This doesn’t, of course, give me (or anyone else) a pass to gobble up desserts all day long, but it’s an interesting evidence-based peek at the good vibes many of us derive from sweets. When I feel more relaxed and at ease, I’m more likely to make healthier choices overall.
Dessert can provide nutrients and promote some healthy outcomes.
Ready for another surprise? Desserts can actually be a source of some important nutrients. Of course, fresh, whole-food sweets like berry parfaits provide fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, and others like yogurt smoothies come with plenty of calcium, probiotics, and protein. But even chocolate has its benefits. The dark, creamy treat is rich in antioxidants like catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins, which could help reduce systemic inflammation. As part of a bigger-picture diet that includes necessary micro- and macronutrients, desserts can be a small supplement.
Sweets are made for enjoying with others.
It might sound like a stretch, but part of my practice of regular sweets-eating isn’t just for myself — it has to do with connecting with others. Just like a meal shared around the family table, desserts have a way of bringing people together. In my family, celebrations typically involve a sweet treat everyone can enjoy.
Granted, not every day brings a birthday party or retirement bash, but even the simple act of enjoying a brownie with my kids after school has the power to connect us. I’ve had plenty of heart-to-hearts with both friends and family over ice cream cones, cheesecake, or root beer floats. Would we feel the same if we each nibbled on half an apple? I’m not so sure. It’s one more reason I choose not to nix sweets from my life.
What enjoying daily dessert looks like for me
By now, you might be picturing me downing a pint of Rocky Road every night or wolfing a generous slice of cake after every lunch. When I say I eat dessert every day, that’s not what I mean. Though larger, more indulgent treats have their place in my life (particularly on special occasions), my dessert routine is far smaller in scale. A single cookie, a scoopful of ice cream, or a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips is usually enough to satiate my sweetness cravings after a meal. I also try to stick to a personal policy of eating dessert after either lunch or dinner, not both.
Mindful consumption also plays a major role in any healthy relationship with dessert. Whenever possible, I give sweets my full attention, allowing me to savor them in appropriate amounts. And I’ll typically check in with my level of hunger or fullness before indulging, rather than eating out of mere habit.
Of course, eating dessert every day isn’t right for everyone, and if you have a health condition or concerns about weight loss or maintenance, talk to your doctor or dietitian about where sugar fits in your personal health plan. As for me, I’m happy to give sweets a (moderate) place in my diet for the pleasure and personal connection they bring to the table.