A cookie in each hand

There's a great bakery just around the corner from where I live with the most divine treats ever. Needless to say, it's a bit of a problem that it's so close to my home, so I have to discipline myself to go there only for very special occasions.

So, the other day I ordered a fabulous baked cheesecake for a family birthday party, and while I was waiting for them to add the last trimmings, and salivating at all the other temptations around me, a cheeky little notice near the till caught my eye. It said: "A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand." I burst out laughing, and right there and then, I decided to heed the persistent call of the pretty cupcakes and add a dozen to my bill. (That will be six cupcakes in my one hand, and six in the other – a perfect balance, don't you think?)

This witty saying definitely worked its magic on both me and the happy sales assistant, but there's also a more universal truth to it. A balanced diet obviously does not consist of cookies and cake alone, but we are humans after all, and you can't restrict yourself only to healthy foods without a reward or a treat every now and then. If you keep denying yourself something, you'll start feeling deprived and very soon you'll give in and stuff yourself with an overdose of the "forbidden" food, only to feel guilty afterwards. All of this could have been avoided, if you simply listened to your body and satisfied the craving with a small treat and moved on.

Like everything in life, it's all about balance. Life really is far too short to deny yourself the good stuff. If you follow a balanced diet most of the time (consisting of a healthy diet low in fat, salt and sugar and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables) and exercise regularly, there is no reason why can't treat yourself to something sweet every once in a while. The secret is moderation – don't overdo it. Do not eat the whole packet of cookies – have a few, and put the rest away for another day. Also, remember that a treat is a small snack and should not be used to stave off hunger pangs or replace a meal. If you are hungry, it is better to opt for healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts or yoghurt.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, you can still enjoy a treat. Have a look at the latest research. A research team at Pennsylvania State University has found that overweight and obese women who added a bit of chocolate or other sweets on top of a healthy diet plan lost about 5kg over four months, on average. They were able to lose weight, while indulging their sweet tooth every day.

These results show that women don't have to totally remove chocolate and other sweet snacks from their diets to see weight-loss success, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. And, the small snacks may reduce cravings for more sweets, they add – cravings that have been the downfall of many strict diets.

Here's to a sweet and balanced diet!

- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, Nutrition Newsletter, August 2011)

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