The rules of dessert

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

January 2013

Dessert is one of the joys of life and you should have one every day, maybe even two. The practice of having a sweet dish at the end of the meal probably began with the ancient Egyptians, perhaps earlier. Dates and honey were well-known in the Middle East back then. Who could blame us moderns for keeping up such an ancient tradition?

Today's most decadent desserts can easily add another 1500 calories to a meal although most of them come in at around 400 or 500. It takes more than an hour at the gym or the track to burn that many calories so it makes sense to have a strategy that will keep your taste buds happy without putting on extra pounds.

Try a California-style dessert: fruits and nuts. The natural sugars of the former are combined with fiber so that they don't push your blood sugar too high, too fast. Nuts are high in calories but they come with healthy polyunsaturated fats and some beneficial minerals. It takes about a handful of walnuts or almonds to reach a hundred calories and most nutty desserts don't even have that many. They are worth it.

Visitors to Europe who avoid the tourist traps and eat among the locals find that dessert often consists of a couple of slices of fruit and a thumb-sized piece of hard cheese. No Parisian or Viennese decadence there. It's a healthy habit that you can bring back home.

You've probably noticed that the first bite of dessert usually tastes the best. If your dessert comes from a buffet, take just a little. If it comes off the menu, share it with someone. And there's no reason why you can't take half of your dessert home in a doggie bag if there's no one to share it with.

How about chocolate for dessert? Dark chocolate has beneficial minerals and antioxidants as well as nutrients that make blood vessels more supple and blood less likely to clot. It also lowers blood pressure but just a little. Don't rely on it to bring abnormally high blood pressure back to normal. About those calories? One ounce has about 150 so make that your daily limit.

A pound of fat contains 3500 calories. If you have just one 500-calorie dessert every day it will add a pound of fat to your frame in only a week. Keep those healthy alternatives in mind.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.