By Nicole Nichols, Managing Editor and Fitness Expert at SparkPeople
I definitely have a strong preference for sweet foods. When they were handing out that gene that makes people think some desserts are "too sweet" or "too rich," I must have been sleeping (or off somewhere eating dessert), because no food is ever too sweet for me! Sometimes I give in, but other times, I find ways to squelch it without turning to sugary junk foods.
So what do I reach for when sugar cravings strike?
When I crave sweets, I usually want:
- Twizzlers (only strawberry, no exceptions)
- Ice cream (premium, really high-calorie stuff)
However, I try to indulge in real desserts and candy only in moderation-usually once every few weeks at the most, but sometimes it happens more or less frequently.
Instead, I usually eat one of these lesser evils a few times a week to tide myself over:
- Dried fruit. I'm really into dried cherries, pineapple rings and mango slices, which are so sweet you'd think they're candy! OK, granted, some of these are made with added sugar, but at least the basis of your snack is still fruit. Whether plain or coupled with some almonds or lightly salted nuts, it usually hits the spot.
A protein bar. These don't make their way into my diet on a regular basis, but they're great for killing your sweet tooth and getting at least some nutrition (and not too many calories) without the sugar rush, thanks to the fat, fiber and protein that most contain (in addition to sugar and carbohydrates). My all-time favorite protein bar (in terms of taste and sweetness) is PowerBar's Triple Threat. This is delicious like a candy bar with a few vitamins, a decent amount of protein and some fiber thrown in.
- Sweetened yogurt. I think most yogurts contain far too much sugar, which is why I'm putting this under the category of "lesser evils." However, it's far from an unhealthy food. Sweetened yogurt also provides protein and calcium, of course. I like to pair mine with some fresh strawberries or blueberries to stretch the yogurt but still get the sweet taste. I also like to make the world's simplest smoothie: 1 cup of vanilla yogurt with 1 cup of frozen fruit.
- Dark chocolate chips. Yes, dark chocolate contains antioxidants, but I wouldn't consider it a health food. It still has lots of sugar and little else in the way of nutrition. However, at least those antioxidants are in there, right? Here's what I do from time to time. I buy a bag of expensive, organic dark chocolate chips by Sunspire. These cost about $5 to $6 per bag, which I know is pricey. But that price ensures the quality I want-and the fact that I'll ration them instead of inhaling them. I'll portion out a small amount to eat for an after-dinner snack. Sometimes I eat them plain and other times I'll eat them with dried fruit (usually raisins or cherries) and almonds.
Ideally, what I eat most of the time when my sweet tooth strikes is… fruit. Unglamorous, right? I know you're thinking that you hear this advice all the time and that fruit just isn't going to cut it when you're really craving sweets. I beg to differ! If the SparkPeople kitchen is loaded with goodies (someone's gotta taste all those low-cal ice creams after all), I will eat the fruit I brought from home FIRST and then wait it out. If I'm still hungry and really want sweets afterward, then I'll have a portion-controlled treat, knowing that at least I got some fiber, vitamins and another serving of produce in my body before I indulged. And 90% of the time, the fruit alone hits the spot and I think to myself, "This is so sweet and delicious! I can't believe I thought I wanted ice cream!" Apples, oranges, bananas, and berries are my top picks for daily snacking. When they're in-season and fresh, their sweetness rivals any dessert out there-plus they're the healthiest thing you can snack on when it comes to sweets.
My sugar cravings come and go. I love sugar just as much as the next guy, but I find that the more sweetened foods I eat, the more sugary foods I crave-and that's not a good situation to be in if you want to eat healthy. So I make a conscious effort to eat sweet foods in moderation. If I notice that I'm having too many sweets over a few days, I'll resist those sugar cravings to no end and choose one of the "lesser evils" above or a natural sweet like fresh fruit, which puts my sweet tooth at bay without increasing my sugar cravings.
Now you tell us: When your sweet tooth strikes, what do YOU reach for?
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SparkPeople Fitness Expert Nicole Nichols is an ACE-certified personal trainer and AFAA-certified group fitness instructor. You can learn more about Nicole and her workout DVDs here.