From decadent chocolate cake and ice cream to warm, gooey cookies, there are so many delicious desserts to satisfy any sweet tooth. One of my all-time favorite desserts is a sugary bananas Foster, complete with a bowl of rich vanilla ice cream. While indulging in too much of a good thing has negative consequences, treating yourself to your favorite dessert doesn't have to come with a side of guilt. Balance is key here.
When done in moderation, certain sweets and desserts like dark chocolate can actually benefit your physical and mental health. Don't just take it from me; the proof is in the pudding. Here's what research says about consuming desserts and why you don't have to deprive yourself of them, even if you're trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
For more tips on nutrition, learn why you should be eating more carbs, not less and easy ways to add more fruits and veggies to your diet.
Why your balanced diet should include dessert
1. Desserts have nutritional value
Regardless of what your keto friends and family insist, carbohydrates are necessary nutrients that fuel your body and give it the energy it needs to function throughout the day. While there are healthier forms of carbs, it can provide proper fuel when done in moderation.
Chocolate lovers will be happy to learn that desserts high in cocoa content, like a bar of dark chocolate, are chock-full of nutrients, like:
Many desserts also incorporate fruit, like chocolate-covered strawberries or blueberry pie. Fruits play an important role in keeping us healthy and lowering risk of heart disease, diabetes and more. Indulge in a fruit-forward treat for another opportunity to incorporate essential vitamins and minerals into your diet.
2. Lowers blood pressure
While there needs to be more research done, existing studies show dark chocolate positively affects heart health.
Dark chocolate contains significant amounts of flavanols, plant chemicals that help produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has a relaxing effect on the arteries, which promotes better blood circulation and lowers blood pressure.
One study reviewed 42 acute or short-term controlled trials with 1,297 participants involving chocolate, cocoa or flavan-3-ols. After analyzing the data, researchers saw reduced diastolic and arterial blood pressure.
3. Lowers risk of heart disease
Here's another one for the chocolate people: In the same review mentioned above, researchers found that eating dark chocolate three times a week reduced the risk of heart disease by 9% -- and it was even greater for those who ate more dark chocolate in a week.
A separate review also concluded similar findings. They found that eating 45 grams of chocolate per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11%.
4. Boosts happiness and mental health
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you we feel happier after treating ourselves to a tasty treat, but what's actually happening inside our brain when this occurs? Foods high in carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, which acts as a hormone and helps promote feelings of happiness.
When done in moderation, desserts can give you a positive boost that fruits, veggies and other foods can't always measure up to. And while it might seem a little counterproductive at first, enjoying a dessert once a week or so can help keep you on the right healthy eating track.
Restricting yourself from sugary foods cold turkey during a health kick makes you more likely to over consume when your sweet tooth returns.
5. Promotes healthier eating
It's traditional to peruse the dessert menu after dinner, but picking your dessert before you eat proves advantageous in your overall food choices.
A group of researchers studied the eating habits of faculty members, staff and graduate students at a school's cafeteria. Dessert options were placed at different points in the food line across four days, and people could choose between fruit or cheesecake.
The results showed 70% of the people who took the cheesecake first went on to eat a healthier main dish and consumed 250 fewer calories overall. Only about 33% of people who chose the fruit first went on to pick a healthy main dish.
Another study published in Science Direct showcased the benefits of strategically timed treats after volunteers who had desserts like chocolate, donuts or cookies with their breakfast experienced fewer junk food cravings than the people who ate a healthier, low-calorie breakfast.
6. It may improve brain functions
More research is needed to call this a conclusive benefit of eating dessert, but it's worth mentioning considering the promising studies thus far.
Some research has shown that eating dark chocolate with high amounts of cocoa increases blood flow to the brain in younger individuals, a possible explanation for apparent improvements to brain functions like learning and memory retention. It may also help older adults who are showing signs of memory impairment.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.