So one day, after a fairly healthy one in fact, where I had a light day at work and was able to make myself well-balanced meals, I had a terrible craving for dessert at night. I gave in, but soon afterwards I was overcome with guilt. As if eating some chocolate ruined my entire day’s work. Its happened a few times with me and definitely didn't feel great.
For me personally, no matter how full I feel, there always seems to be room for dessert. A little nibble of dark chocolate, or a spoonful of Nutella, or ordering some (guilty) yummy fudgy brownies. Craving sweets after dinner is a serious affair.
But why do I crave sweets after a meal?
The good news is, it's normal to crave something sweet after dinner. There are scientific reasons for this.
- Serotonin - It’s no secret we enjoy eating chocolates and sweets, and even high carb food like fried snacks, potatoes and rice. Their simple sugar composition means that when you consume them, your body releases serotonin (the Happiness Hormone) which makes you feel good. The control centre for Serotonin is the brain but it impacts the entire body and regulates our mood, happiness and anxiety. This creates a pattern of relating sugar with happiness and the craving begins.
- The salt-sweet balance - Particularly salty or high carb food, makes your insulin rise, dropping your blood sugar and so your body craves sugar to create a balance.
- Hunger - if you're skipping meals, jumbling meal proportions, or not eating enough proteins your body may not be getting the necessary nutrients and you could find yourself craving chocolate or desserts. When you're hungry your body naturally craves carbohydrates and sugar which is why you often go for unhealthy chips, cookies and chocolates.
- Habit - A lot of us are just used to eating chocolate or something sweet after dinner. It can be a part of our culture, habit or even a stress response. Over time, eating dessert regularly after a meal signals ‘fullness’ or ‘dinner is over’ to the body creating a pattern of craving.
- Magnesium deficiency - Besides low sugar or caffeine, your body could have a magnesium deficit. It’s fairly common because we don’t get a lot of magnesium from our regular diets. The mineral is found in cocoa and can sometimes be the reason for your desire for chocolates.
- Your environment - maybe you've been scrolling deep into the Instagram food porn section, with rivers of Nutella, warm pancakes, brownies and whatnot. The scent in your environment, someone eating dessert near you, or you just thinking about food can also lead you to feel a craving for dessert.
Can I stop cravings or do I give in?
Here's the thing, it is unhealthy to eat too many sugary snacks and heaps of chocolate. However, eating a small dessert daily can be a positive addition to your diet. Here’s why.
Denying your cravings is the worst thing you can do. If you want to have something sweet, go ahead. The magic is in choosing what to eat.
Don’t focus on the guilt of giving in. Desserts boost your mood, and feeling good is the whole point. We’re not saying stuff your face with three doughnuts - moderation is always key. But if you feel the need for a small happy boost, eat a healthier dessert and give your body the Serotonin boost it wants.
Measure it out and put away the rest. Sitting with a slab of chocolate while watching Netflix is not the best way to portion control. Serve yourself a few counted pieces of your choice of sweet e.g. 2 squares of chocolate, 1 spoon of dark chocolate almond butter or 1 piece of Afters. Then put the rest of the pack away before you sit down to eat. Often you’ll find it’s too much effort for you to go get a second helping, and you’ll stop yourself before you over-indulge.
Adding nutrition to your desserts helps your nutrition intake. Fruits, or desserts filled with nuts and seeds, is actually a good way to add to your healthy fats and protein consumption. Below is a list of our favourite healthy dessert options.
What are some healthy dessert ideas?
The answer to your craving is something high in protein (to make you feel full), healthy fats (so you’re not eating junk), and something delicious so you’re satiated and not disappointed.
Here are some options we swear by:
- Dates - Not only are dates delicious, but they are also extremely nutritious with their high fibre content, antioxidants, and have proven to improve brain function.
- Nuts - Most nuts, particularly peanuts and almonds, are a great source of protein and magnesium. Substitute the generic sugary bars with a healthy spoonful of dark chocolate almond butter or peanut butter. Your chocolate craving will be fulfilled and you’ll get a lot of nutrition from the nuts.
- Fruits & berries - The best way to eat fruits is to keep them handy. Not in the back of your fridge but out in a basket or cut them up into meal prepped boxes to eat whenever you have a craving. Apples, bananas, mangoes, or anything seasonal works great.
- Little pieces of chocolate - it's perfectly okay to eat some chocolate in moderation. Instead of milk chocolate, choose dark chocolate. Not only is it delicious and will fulfil your craving, it is filled with antioxidants. Compared to milk chocolate, it has lower sugar and fat content so it’s definitely healthier.
- Afters by Happy Jars - we’ve created the perfect healthy, nutty dessert bite and we’re calling it ‘Afters’. After a meal, there’s always room for dessert! They’re made with dates, nuts and dark chocolate (super healthy) and they’re perfectly sized so you’re eating a controlled portion. They’re free of guilt and full of nutrients, and in just one piece your cravings will be satisfied.
Here's what we really want you to take away - craving desserts is normal.
Out of stress, habit, or the need for a treat, it's normal to crave desserts and sweets. The magic lies in moderation and being mindful of what you eat. Try not to punish yourself for the food you eat and guilt never helped anyone. Recognise your habits and work on improving them slowly and in a sustainable manner.