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Eating healthy important for kids' weight, too
It's clear that what's known as a "Western" diet, comprised of high-fat foods, refined grains, and lots of sugar, is one of the primary causes of the rise in obesity levels throughout the Western world. Most studies of dietary patterns, however, are focused on adults and their diets while in adulthood.

Snack right!
A lot of health issues come from snacking and this is because many snack foods are very calorie dense (high calories for small portions). A sweet snack like a Kit Kat bar has 220 calories and 11 grams of fat, whereas only 6 Triscuits are 120 calories and 5 grams of fat. Most such snack foods have little nutritive value.

If you buy it at the grocery store....
Scientists know that asking people to report on their own diet is a flawed means of finding out what people eat. People tend to minimize eating things that are bad for them (the "self-report bias") and over-report eating what they perceive to be good for them (the "social desirability bias"), because they don't want to appear to be unhealthy.


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A Balanced Diet

Researchers in The Netherlands have verified what you may have already experienced: avoiding sweets can increase your desire for them (Appetite 2012;59:1-8).

They were conducting research into savory versus sweet foods and their relationship to protein intake. All other things being equal, would eating sweet-tasting foods make you crave high-protein foods, which tend to be savory?

Thirty-nine healthy men and women in their twenties signed up to participate in their feeding study. For twenty-four hours, once a week for four weeks, the participants ate only what the researchers gave them, starting with lunch. Each week's foods were one of four types: savory, sweet, mixed savory and sweet tending more toward savory, and mixed tending more toward sweet. The levels of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) were the same over the four diets. On an hourly basis the participants used handheld devices to record their food preferences, hunger, and other appetite-related feelings.

After having lunch, dinner, snacks, and then breakfast the following morning, the participants attended a buffet lunch where they could choose their own foods and eat as much or as little as they wished. The buffet, as you might guess, included both savory and sweet foods that were both high and low in protein levels.

The scientists had theorized that after 24 hours of eating sweet-tasting foods, people would tend to eat foods that were higher in protein, regardless of whether they tasted sweet or savory. They were wrong. Those who had been eating the sweet meals chose more savory foods from the buffet, while those who had been eating the savory foods chose more of the sweeter foods - a larger amount of sweet foods than when they were choosing savory foods after the sweet diet. That said, they tended to eat about the same number of calories regardless of what types of foods they chose, and protein content seemed to have no effect on their choices.

The records on the participants' handheld devices revealed that while those on the savory diet felt more satisfied with their meals than those on the sweet diet, they also showed a stronger preference for sweet foods. Those on the sweet diet showed more of a preference for savory foods, but this preference was not nearly as strong.

What this means for you

Eating healthy does not mean avoiding sweets. Let me say that again for those who like to demonize them: EATING HEALTHY DOES NOT MEAN AVOIDING ALL SWEETS.

Eating healthy is about BALANCE, and sweets are part of that balance. (That does not, however, mean that I think that dessert should be a daily part of your life: save them for special occasions, like your birthday.) Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit and other healthy, sweet things, so that when you're presented with that doughnut or cake at the office, you aren't overcome.

First posted: May 23, 2012