At this point, virtually everyone knows that sugar is public enemy number one when it comes to living a long, healthy life. (Really sorry if this is breaking news to you. Please don’t ask about Santa.) Ask any doctor, Blue Zones expert, or dietitian for their advice on eating for longevity and they’re bound to say the same thing: Cut back on sugar. Fortunately, making a healthy sweet treat isn’t an impossibility.
Sugary treats are, well, delicious. What’s a healthy eater to do when a craving for sweet treats hits? Is there a way to give in without veering off the eating-for-longevity dietary plan? I posed the question to family and functional medicine doctor Jill Baron, MD, who has worked directly with Chef David Bouley, arguably the world’s healthiest chef. Dr. Baron treats patients with not only longevity in mind, but healthspan, and unlike many doctors, preventing disease is just as much a part of her practice as treatment.
“Craving sweets happens for a few reasons, both physical and [mental],” Dr. Baron says. “Mentally, it could mean something sweet is missing from your life.” This is why before reaching into the pantry, she suggests taking a minute to think about if your craving could be linked to something bigger. If so, eating a cookie probably isn’t going to make you feel all that better.
Before rolling your eyes, you should know that her advice is in direct accordance to the Blue Zone way of living. In fact, when it comes to the lifestyle habits people across Blue Zones have in common, only three of the nine pillars are related to food. The takeaway here: Your mental health matters, and it actually plays a part in why you’re craving sweets, too.
Of course sometimes you just want some dessert. “If you’re physically craving something sweet, my go-to snack is five organic prunes and 10 organic raw almonds, eaten together,” Dr. Baron says. “Prunes have sweetness and many health benefits, including being high in potassium and fiber, as well as having a low glycemic load,” she says, adding that they also may protect against bone loss. As for the almonds, they do more than just add a satisfying crunch. Dr. Baron says they’re one of her trusty standbys because they contain phytonutrients that can improve cholesterol and decrease inflammation. “Prunes eaten with almonds with give a great antioxidant boost and satisfy a craving for sweets,” she says.
If prunes and almonds aren’t your jam, rest assured that having a piece of cake (or whatever your must-have dessert is) every now and then isn’t worth stressing over. No, sugar isn’t good for you, but neither is obsessing over it. Getting a hit of sugar every now and then isn’t the end of the world, but if you want to fulfill your craving in a healthy way with natural sweetness, Dr. Baron’s prunes and almond trick is an easy two-ingredient way to go that still has those longevity benefits we’re all after. As it turns out, sometimes you can have it both ways.
This lemon bar might be the healthy sweet treat you’ve been looking for:
For more healthy dessert ideas, check out these treats registered dietitians love and these low-sugar desserts made with less than five ingredients.