Do Desserts Have Any Nutritional Value?

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Do Desserts Have Any Nutritional Value?

You just had a hearty meal of grilled chicken and roasted vegetables after some grueling grinding at the gym. You deserve a reward for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so you reach out to the fridge for some chocolate ice cream.

A scoop or two can’t possibly derail your fitness goals, right?

As with many aspects of nutrition, the answer isn’t as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ While it’s true that you might need to forego the so-called ‘cheat foods’ to achieve your desired body, it can be incredibly frustrating.

The longer you deprive yourself of a treat, the more tempted you are to treat yourself. That’s why even professional athletes binge on their favorites from time to time.

There’s a lot to discuss on desserts and their role in a nutritional diet. Sure, they typically comprise of carbs similar to those necessary in bodybuilding and sports training. But it doesn’t mean wolfing down an entire chocolate cake is good for you. 

Desserts and Nutritional Value

The Purpose of Desserts

Before delving deep into the subject, it’s crucial to know what desserts are and what purpose they serve in mealtime. For the record, dishes under this category, like cakes and pies, have been around for thousands of years. Their ingredients have even existed far longer.

The term’s origin describes their purpose, from the French word ‘desservir’ or ‘to clear the table.’ The dessert’s job is to neutralize a meal’s aftertaste with sweetness, a task that has barely changed over the centuries.

It didn’t become a kind of dish in its own right until the 17th century, as sugar became widely available in Europe and, later, the rest of the world.

Overall, a slice of cake is by no means a substitute for the main dish. Dessert must always be small enough to wash off the intense flavors clinging to one’s tongue. Hence, it’s not its job to help build muscle mass, let alone prepare you for the Olympics.

A Gray Area

At this point, you might think that desserts contribute little to overall nutrition. But even dietitians and nutrition experts admit that it’s not as simple as that.

First, cakes and pies aren’t the only kinds of desserts out there.

For example, fruits for dessert are a great way to meet the recommended intake of two cups a day. The practice is even deeply rooted in history, with the Roman emperor, Nero, having preferred his shaved ice topped with fruits. Other healthier options include nuts and dark chocolate.

Second. Dr. Rachel Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont, says the trouble with today’s desserts lies with added sugars. These are sugars or syrups added on top of the natural sugars, giving the body too much sugar than what it needs.

The American Heart Association (AHA) sounded the alarm regarding added sugars with a joint scientific statement in 2009. Based on data from 2001 to 2004, researchers found that the average American had consumed over 22 teaspoons or almost half-a-cup of added sugars per day.

Worse, added sugars can be found not just in desserts but in nearly all food items at your local grocery–in the form of other types of sugar or high-fructose syrups.

You can burn these added sugars through intense physical activity.

However, you’ll need to work harder than usual because you don’t want them to start wreaking havoc on your body. The effects can range from high blood pressure to stroke.

Because added sugars won’t be going away anytime soon, the AHA sets the limit at nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women a day. However, experts are quick to clarify that there’s no generally accepted right amount of added sugars. 

Lastly, even if you convince yourself not to have dessert, your brain tends to do otherwise. Since the body has evolved to seek out calories for survival, the brain releases feel-good chemicals at the mere sight or smell of food. Unless you possess godlike resistance, there’s no use fighting the temptation of ‘having just one bite.’

This mental hardwiring is the reason that ‘no-dessert challenges’ mostly fail. One person decided to go without dessert for 20 days, only to bomb on Day 12 for baking cookies, eating four of them, and falling into a sugar-induced coma.

One of the takeaways from that challenge is that denying yourself a treat tends to make you feel miserable.

So, desserts are an inevitable fact of eating, with added sugars making the struggle feel like torture. Luckily, not all desserts are sinful, a point worth your attention.

Sweets Without The Sin

Sweets Without The Sin

In light of all this, what are you to do?

Admit that you need it.

If you falter and reach for the cookie jar, stop blaming yourself for lacking the willpower. Experts say the best you can do after this is to start all over, and tenacity also happens to be hardwired in the human brain. Learn from failure and carry on.

Admitting that desserts are inevitable makes it easier to proceed to the next step: setting your terms. If this article source of making chocolate protein ice cream is any indication, you can dictate what goes into your dessert. For instance, you can replace regular sugar with zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia. Add supplements to infuse your dessert with flavor plus extra nutrients, like protein.

Stevia is a favorite among people trying to lose weight or curb their risk of diabetes. Derived from a plant native to South America, stevia is reportedly 200 times sweeter than sugar. Multiple studies have also recognized its potential in treating sugar-related health problems, though further research is still needed to be sure.

Sometimes, the regular choice can be less sinful than others.

For example, whole milk may contain more fats and calories but also more omega-3. While some fats like transfat can be harmful, others like saturated fat can be beneficial. Multiple studies have found little to no evidence that good fats increase the risk of heart disease as much as the bad ones.

As previously mentioned, consider healthier options such as fruits and nuts. Fresh fruits don’t have added sugars (except canned fruits), but have naturally-occurring fructose and glucose.

Meanwhile, nuts don’t contain enough sugar to send blood sugar levels through the roof.

However, you’d want them raw whenever you can as roasting can reduce their healthy fats.

Stevia, fruits, and nuts are just some examples. The fact that you can make this choice freely means you can control your dessert cravings without outright denying them. And, swapping out the typical ingredients for healthier alternatives is just the beginning.

Dessert Edition: Losing the Gains

How To Stay Gym Ready

How often do you read or hear that you need to intake around 2,000 calories a day to stay healthy?

Most people probably get it from the nutrition facts at the back of food packaging, which tends to base on that magic number. The problem is that it’s a 30-year-old misconception.

Long story short, the FDA loosely rounded off calorie numbers from a survey taken in the 1990s. Male respondents averaged between 2,000 and 3,000 calories, while female respondents averaged between 1,600 and 2,200. It wasn’t supposed to be the norm, but it still is–and people are paying the price in the form of obesity.

Stop counting calories–it’s a complicated metric for dieting. If you keep consuming the supposed 2,000-calorie requirement, your body would be unable to burn through them all. Calories that don’t get used up get stored in fat reserves, which can stack up pretty fast. 

Whether they come from a grilled chicken breast or a slice of pumpkin pie doesn’t matter–they’re calories all the same. It’s more of how much you eat than what you eat. 

If you want to control your weight, convince yourself that your calorie requirements change every day. Not even dietitians can get the numbers right, so you’re better off eating smaller portions and eating these portions often. Not listening to your rumbling tummy can put you at a greater risk of overeating later.

Another way is to make it hard for the body to break down specific nutrients like protein and fiber. Scientists refer to this as diet-induced thermogenesis or thermic effect, where the body uses a part of the food’s inherent calories to digest it. 

Protein, for instance, has a thermic effect of 20% to 30%, which is higher than carbs and fats. It means that the body requires 20% to 30% of calories in protein to break down protein, leaving the body with just 70% to use or store.

Fiber, meanwhile, is indigestible because of its cellulose content, which the body can’t break down. Instead, it goes straight to the stool and promotes bowel movement. 

Hence, a protein and fiber-rich diet will help you feel full without the extra calories. As mentioned earlier, you can manipulate the ingredients when making your dessert, adding protein supplements or extra fiber. Just don’t deprive yourself of too many calories, though; your body still needs them.

Lastly, and perhaps the most reliable, is exercise. Making your body move forces it to burn through its fat reserves more quickly, resulting in a calorie deficit.

Instead of basing your exercise plan on the calorie count, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense physical activity a week.

Meals, especially desserts, become more satisfying after a workout. It’s the body’s way of saying that it needs to replenish its energy stores.

Vegetarian diet bodybuilder

Conclusion: The Takeaways

So, do desserts have any nutritional value? The answer is yes.

Dessert, like any other food, can contribute to a well-balanced diet to some extent. It provides carbs, protein, fiber, and other nutrients in varying degrees compared to other meals. However, the more important matter here is how valuable you consider desserts–and to a degree, your body–to be. 

Here are some important things you should take note of:

  • Desserts aren’t the main course: Times may have changed since the 17th century, but deserts are still palate cleansers in the end. Never substitute ice cream for a full meal, and never have ice cream before a full meal.
  • Desserts are as inevitable as taxes: No matter what you do, the brain will habitually seek out calories–more likely in packed sources like cakes and pies. The more you fight it, the more you’d want it. Accept them for what they are and look for ways to benefit from their existence. 
  • You have control over your decisions: There are many ways to satisfy dessert cravings without suffering long-term consequences. If added sugars are your thing, limit them to an occasional treat, as in a reward after a major competition. When you have to indulge more often, consider healthier treats such as fruits, nuts, and homemade desserts made with more nutritious ingredients.
  • Overeating will make you fat, period: Healthy or not, desserts or not, any food consumed in bigger servings than usual will net a few extra pounds. Instead of large servings less frequently, consider eating smaller portions more often. Don’t starve yourself to the point of rewarding yourself with a food binge.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to numbers: Calorie counts and other metrics can be arbitrary. Instead of focusing on them intently, you should concentrate on setting achievable goals, such as a weekly exercise plan. The results of hard work and a bit of sacrifice will eventually show.
  • Playing tricks on your body is fair game: Convincing the body that it has eaten enough by eating less is encouraged. Nutrients such as protein and fiber can keep the body preoccupied with digestion, allowing you to feel full on a smaller serving. Use these in making your desserts to your benefit.
  • Your body knows when it’s had enough: Always listen to your body and its cues. Eat when your tummy rumbles, stop when the tummy feels full, and call it a day if the legs can’t go an extra lap. Like the hardwired cravings for calories, these mechanisms have also evolved out of the need to survive.

If you understand these caveats, it’s okay to indulge in your favorite sweet treat. Besides, you deserve a fair serving after getting this far.

-Terry Asher

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Terry Asher

Owner & Founder at Gym Junkies LLC
After changing his best friend’s life by helping him lose over 70lbs, dropping him down to an amazing 7% body fat, Terry was inspired to be a full-time internet trainer knowing he could do the same for many more. In 2010, Terry published his own diet and fitness e-book that can be purchased on this website. Let Terry help you change your body for the better!
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Do Desserts Have Any Nutritional Value?
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Do Desserts Have Any Nutritional Value?
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Do Desserts Have Any Nutritional Value? The longer you deprive yourself of a treat, the more tempted you are to treat yourself.
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