Dessert Rules

Q. I am a healthy, active person trying to maintain my weight. About once or twice a week I will have a nice dessert at my favorite bakery, staying within my allotted calories for the day. My question is: though I’m keeping calories down, is it still healthy?

A. Well, sweets aren’t exactly health-promoting.  Nonetheless, But I do believe that a healthy diet can include the occasional sweet treat. Here are my guidelines:

Although staying within your calorie budget is important, it’s also important to stay within your sugar budget, for reasons that I outlined in this episode of my weekly podcast: Why is Sugar Bad?

The World Health Organization suggest that 50g a day is a reasonable budget for added sugar. That’s for healthy, active, normal-weight folks, which you appear to be.  That “nice dessert” at the bakery might involve anywhere from 15 to 60 grams of sugar–or even more, depending on the size and sweetness. You can use an online nutrition database like to research the sugar content of your favorite treats.

Fitting dessert into your sugar budget might require cutting out other sources of added sugar, such as sweetened beverages or breakfast cereals. My podcast on How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake might be helpful, as well.

Although some of my more puritanical colleagues would probably disagree, I think it’s OK to enjoy dessert, as long as your overall sugar consumption is within reason and your diet is otherwise healthy and nutritious. And why not spend that sugar budget on something really worthwhile, like good French pastry? I could even stretch the rules to allow for “borrowing” some of your sugar allowance from the day before or after as long as it averages out to 50g/day or less.

Have a nutrition question for Monica? Post it here!

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