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The scoop on sweet treats

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

Feel strongly that anyone watching their weight or who has diabetes, should cut out sweet treats altogether? Well, it’s time to shake up your views and check out the smart approach to treat time.

You can enjoy any food as long as you consider how much and how often you eat it. If you need to keep an eye on your BGLs, chocolate generally has a low GI due to its high fat content but most other candies and lollies have a moderate or high GI and they pack in a fair few carbs too. For example if you down a 30g (1oz) pack of jelly beans (GI78) at a sitting, you have downed 28g carbs (e.g. the equivalent of 2 slices of bread). Timing matters, too. Enjoying your small candy treat after a low GI meal will not cause the same rise in your BGLs compared with tucking in on an empty tummy mid-afternoon at the movies.

If you have a sweet tooth, deprivation just sets you up for constant temptation. In fact research indicates that depriving yourself of choccy or candy may set you up for stronger cravings and challenge your resolve to stay on track. A study published in Nutrition Research on chocolate and candy eaters, provides evidence that sweet treats can fit into a balanced eating pattern. When compared to non-candy eaters, people who ate sweet treats tended to weigh less, have lower BMI and waist circumferences, and have decreased levels of risk factors for heart disease and metabolic syndrome. However, cautions lead researcher Carol O’Neil, it is still all things in moderation. ‘We certainly don’t want these results positioned as eating candy helps you to lose weight,’ she said. ‘This study adds to the evidence base that supports candy’s role as an occasional treat within a healthy lifestyle.’

Keep treats on neutral ground ‘Oh my poor darling, let me get a plaster for your grazed knee and give you a little candy to cheer you up.’ Sound familiar? The problem of using food to reward or comfort anyone, especially children, is that it can create very unhelpful food habits that can last a lifetime and set up future patterns of emotional eating. Treats have to be treated as an enjoyable part of regular eating (a healthy diet of course), with no emotional strings attached.

Tips to for keeping candy treats moderate and occasional

  • Portion control – go for single-serve, individually wrapped treats. You can prolong the pleasure by serving your treat in solitary splendour on a mini platter surrounded with fresh fruit like strawberries or blueberries.
  • Out of sight, out of mind – keep a treat box (make sure it is an opaque container), high on the pantry shelf.
  • Establish a frequency framework – perhaps one a day after dinner from the (opaque) treat box. And let kids choose their treat. It gives them a sense of empowerment.

And don’t forget to clean those teeth.

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites.