After over a decade of clinical practice I can confidently say that our desire for something sweet after dinner is almost entirely driven by habit, rather than actual need. Enjoying something sweet as the night closes should not be forbidden, however it is important to understand the difference between a genuine hunger and just a pesky habit. Majority of the time this self-awareness comes from eating a balanced diet and understanding what your body thrives on, as well as recognising your emotional connections to food. Within this framework of a well balanced diet we can learn to include a dessert or a little something sweet that gives us satisfaction, satiety and pleasure. After all, food is to be enjoyed!
Eating something sweet or basically something else in general after our dinner can be a trap for surplus intake, especially sugars at a time when we are more sedentary. Generally we are expending our energy throughout the day with our work and exercise regimes, where as at night we tend to be at our slowest and nestling into the couch watching our favourite TV shows on Netflix (or Stan if you’re hooked on Good Behaviour like me). To side step over indulging in the evenings, but also enjoying something sweet we need to look at choices that either compliment our dinner meal or just a sweet bite to hit the spot as such, instead of a whole serving size of another snack or meal. We also need to be mindful of the fact that foods high in sugar near retiring for the night can be over stimulatory to our blood sugar levels leaving us too ‘jacked up’ close to bedtime. It is best to go for a dessert option with low natural sugars for this reason.
When including dessert you need to consider the size of your main meal and the dessert almost as one, especially if you are eating them with an hour of each other. A great way to think about this is how your dinner meal would look on a plate with your dessert next to it. Would it be larger compared to your usual dinner meal size? Often we need to downsize our portion of dinner to make significant room for desserts. Moreover, consuming too much in the evening on top or too close to bed time will sit heavy in our digestive system while we sleep effecting the quality of our rest. Our body really works at its best when given a decent food break over night. We've all experienced going to bed overfull and its never a great feeling.
An example of including dessert in the framework of an evening meal is to have a dinner that is made up of low starch vegetables and protein such as some oven baked salmon or chicken with pan-wilted greens. This meal is quite low in complex carbohydrates and fats leaving extra macronutrient space afterwards for a whole food dessert based on carbs and fats (as most are), such as a cake, cookies or some quality ice cream.
A favourite of mine and something that I encourage in clinic (for my clients that love something sweet post dinner) is to just have something small. Really it’s that craving or habit that drives us, so just satisfying that sweet tooth with a luscious little bite can be enough. This is where these stuffed medjool date or figs work a treat filled with nut butter, chocolate and crunchy add in's that hit the spot without being over filling. Of course it you devour the whole lot of them you will still be going to bed holding your stomach complaining, so remember 'portion control'.
Generally a more beneficial way to incorporate desserts is to have them throughout the day as a meal or as a snack option when we are more active. Ideally we may look at having a dessert after a work out as our ‘recovery meal’ such as pancakes or a wholefood cake like my Apple & Almond Tea Cake. Also, using a dessert option as a snack between meals can work well to provide energy to a busy schedule such as a slice of homemade loaf, a muffin or a cookie. This way we maximise the use of the food as fuel rather than the dessert being eaten at night when it is more likely to be stored or overburden your digestive system. #winning
I do hope this tips have given you some ideas of how to include those sweet wholefoods you love in a smarter way. After all, life’s too short to not eat cake right?
Use your hands to split open the medjool dates and remove the pips. Cut the stalks off the dried figs and slice through the center to split in half. Place figs and dates on a platter and fill each fig and medjool date with a teaspoon of either nut butter, tahini or nuts of choice. Top the nut butter, tahini or nuts with a combination of granola, buckini’s, granola, dark chocolate, cacao nibs and sesame seeds. Serve immediately or store covered in the fridge.