‘Healthy’ sweet treats: Are they healthier?
Most of us enjoy a sweet treat sometimes and, as the wellness trend grows, making healthier versions of sweet treats has become super-popular. There are raw cheesecakes, slices and cookies made with nuts, seeds and alternative sugars, among other ingredients. Using nutrient-rich ingredients like nuts, seeds and oats does increase the nutritional value of sweet foods, but there are a few things to consider about ‘healthier’ treats.
1 ‘Refined sugar-free’ doesn’t mean sugar free
Honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, rice malt syrup and agave syrup are just some of the sugars used in ‘refined sugar-free’ baking. However, the term is fairly meaningless. While the sugar may be unrefined, it doesn’t make it nutrient dense and your body still metabolises it like other types of sugars. They still count as sugar as far as our body is concerned. Check the nutrition panel if you’re unsure.
2 Beware of the ‘health halo’ effect
Sometimes, just thinking something is healthier leads us to eat more of it! This study found that when people thought a snack was healthier, they ate about 35 per cent more than when they saw it as unhealthy. Another study found that simply adding fruit in front of the word sugar increased how people viewed the ‘healthiness’ of the sugar. Remember to pay attention to how you feel when you’re eating: are you satisfied, are you enjoying it, at what point have you had enough? When we view foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, sometimes we will keep eating more of something that’s tasty and that we think is ‘good’, without regard to our levels of fullness or satisfaction.
3 Do you actually enjoy it?
If you choose a sweet treat that has been made ‘healthier’, but it’s still not what you really feel like, chances are you won’t feel satisfied. From experience, clients tell me they may eat an alternative, but then have more or go and have what they really felt like to start with anyway! Sometimes a craving can only be met by fulfilling it, and going for alternatives leads you to eating more than you would have if you’d just enjoyed what you felt like to start with! So, if you really enjoy your more nutrient-dense alternative, and it makes you satisfied, then that’s great, but if it doesn’t satisfy you, you might be better off just enjoying what you really feel like, mindfully.
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules, or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.