To indulge, or not to indulge—that is the question.
Or at least, that’s the question I faced quite a bit when I was home a few weeks ago—The Plum Café’s case of delicious vegan desserts kept staring me in the face as I ordered my kale salad, or sweet potato avocado panini.
Gooey, rocky-road brownies; peanut butter chocolate fudge “creamies” (a creamy, chocolate filling, sandwiched between two peanut butter cookies); raw cheesecakes; fun flavored cupcakes, and cinnamon rolls are just some of the vegan treats offered at The Plum.
But it’s not just at The Plum that I encounter yummy treats.
For those of us with a sweet tooth, it’s an every day occurrence to ask ourselves whether or not we’re going to have dessert after your meal.
People often ask me: “Do vegans eat dessert?” The answer is yes (duh!!!), but there is a smart way to do so and I would like to share it.
I have done a lot of research on the subject and I have also spent many years listening to my body to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to dessert, to sugar and to all things indulgence.
I have put together this handy dandy list of “Dessert Dos & Don’ts” for anyone who struggles with deciding when, what and how to indulge in the best way possible.
Listen to your body. If you are a healthy eater and you feel like a dessert is calling to you, don’t deprive yourself.
When I first adopted a clean diet, I spent almost a year completely avoiding anything dessert-like for fear that it would throw me off balance and my clean eating track would be ruined. The simple truth is that that’s just not plausible. If you eat healthy, exercise, and want to indulge in moderation by all means do it!!! You just have to know what types of desserts to go for and which to stay away from.
Speaking of desserts to stay away from—
Eat desserts with refined sugar. The over-consumption of refined sugar is the number one cause of the American obesity epidemic, and it contributes to a boatload of negative health effects. Sugar compromises our immune system by hindering our ability to fight disease and infection.
it is bad for our liver. It causes insulin resistance, premature aging, cholesterol problems and has even been linked to the development of cancer.
Think about it: anything “refined” has been depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals. Since refined sugar is devoid of nutrients, the body must actually use its own precious nutrient reserves to metabolize it.
It tastes good while we are eating it, and it can make us feel like we are on top of the world for a brief period of time (helllooo, sugar high), but then we will crash and most of the time our tummies will feel like crap. If you’re dying to indulge in your favorite dessert with refined sugar, just eat a few bites!
For example, the rocky road brownie at The Plum was calling to me a few nights ago.
I indulged (my first time having refined sugar in almost a year), loved every bite (I am not going to deny how freaking good it tasted), felt extremely energized and hyped-up for about three hours (thanks to my very sensitive system) and felt a bit like crap later that night and the next morning.
However, since I very rarely indulge in refined sugar I bounced back very quickly. Having a treat like this once in a while is not the end of the world and you most certainly should not beat yourself up over it. To be honest, I’m glad I ate it—it was amazing! And it reminded me that my usual raw, nutrient-rich desserts are so much better for me. Sometimes you have to indulge in your unclean cravings to remind yourself why you eat a clean diet in the first place. You’re human, believe it or not.
Trust your tummy before trusting your eyes. Desserts are usually very aesthetically pleasing—and because we have grown up with the notion that desserts are something we are only supposed to eat in moderation, the idea of eating a dessert is generally more satisfying than the dessert itself.
If you go to your favorite restaurant and you know you want to order the banana cream pie after your meal, make sure to eat a bit less of your entrée so you don’t stuff yourself sick. Your stomach will tell you what it wants and what it can handle.
Be fooled by labels. Just because something says “sugar-free” does not necessarily mean it is good for you.
Sugar-free foods often contain the nasty additives aspartame, saccharin, Splenda and xanthan gum (a binding agent). Stay away from foods with these ingredients. They are unnatural and have been linked to many different health problems including headaches, stomach issues, depression and infertility.
Stick with the natural stuff!
Pay attention to labels (piggy-backing off of the last “Don’t,” I know). Refined sugar is lurking in so many different processed foods, even foods that claim to be healthy.
Read the labels on your sauces, salad dressings, breads, pastas, frozen fruit, yogurts, and even hummus and salsa. Steer clear of anything that contains high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose or sucrose.
(Did you know that Chobani contains genetically modified ingredients and Whole Foods has taken their products off of their shelves?)
Be afraid of the sugar content in delicious natural foods like dates, ripe fruit and dried fruit. Similarly, don’t be afraid of the fat contents in nuts, seeds and avocados.
It is obviously a good thing to be aware of the sugar and fat content in your food, just as it is a good thing to be aware of everything that you put into your body, but a yummy, creamy avocado pudding or a nice bowl of banana “ice cream” contain so many nutrients that will help feed and sustain your body.
Anything involving fruit, nuts, avocados, seeds or dates (in moderation, of course) is a fabulous dessert choice that will leave you feeling satisfied and will not lead to weight gain or digestion problems.
Indulge in raw desserts with no fear.
Anything fully raw does not contain refined sugar, genetically modified ingredients, or anything processed or unnatural. The heavenly “Banana Monkey Sundae” from The Green Boheme in Sacramento (interview to come very shortly!) is a dessert I could indulge in every day, and I never feel like crap after I eat it.
It contains of frozen bananas, all raw and natural homemade carob sauce, glazed walnuts and a crumbled chocolate macaroon. Can you say yum?! (Try my raw vegan peanut butter cups or brownie bliss ball heaven to get some raw inspiration.)
Eat a dessert you know is going to make you feel like crap just because everyone else is doing it. This is true for everything involving healthy eating.
Because of what the Standard American diet is, and what it portrays as “normal”, or “acceptable,” if you want to make a healthy change, sometimes you have to be your own self-motivator.
People will tell you, “you deserve a slice of cake, you’ve had a long day,” and of course that’s all you need to hear in order to dive in; people don’t like the idea of depriving themselves.
Instead, know that you can indulge in a healthy way and you can do it when your body wants it most.
I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “Jordan, you eat so healthy— just have a bite of this, you deserve it.” Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. My body knows when it can handle something or when I actually want it versus when I don’t and I would just be trying it to please someone else.
Experiment with different types of healthy alternatives to see what you are willing to give up and what you are not willing to give up.
For the most part I stick to raw desserts when I am going to indulge because I know they make me feel my best, however, one thing I really don’t want to ever give up is dairy-free chocolate chips. They don’t make me feel like crap the way desserts with any type of flour do (something I have learned about my body by listening carefully to it whenever I eat), so sometimes I add them into my avocado pudding or banana smoothie for a super delicious treat.
Allow yourself to have what you love, just don’t do it so frequently that you are in sugar overload.
Flour doesn’t work well with my system so I generally create/eat desserts without it, but some people can eat it and it doesn’t bother them. Chocolate Covered Katie has so many great healthy dessert recipes like brownies, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, you name it—check her out and know that you’re making a way healthier choice than that Cinnabun at the mall or that Hostess cupcake (is that company even around anymore?).
Use healthy all-natural sweeteners in your desserts like honey, agave, stevia, non-genetically modified vanilla extract, coconut palm sugar, carob powder, cacao powder, or raw vegan protein powders in place of refined sugar.
All in all, just listen to your body.
Eating a clean diet is not about depriving yourself; it’s just about being as healthy as you can be. After I ate that rocky road brownie the other night, I learned that I can eat a dessert with refined sugar from time to time as long as I eat a few bites instead of eating the whole thing. So a few nights later, on my last night in Sacramento, I split a peanut butter creamie from The Plum with my parents and just ate a few bites. I tried it because it looked delicious and it’s something I had wanted to try since I discovered the restaurant over a year ago.
Indulging in moderation can be a great thing, because let’s face it: sometimes it’s fun to be rebellious. I eat a healthy diet of fruits and veggies all day long, and if something is calling to me I am going to try it, doggone it!
I am thankful to be aware of the beauty of raw desserts, the dangers of refined sugar and genetically modified crap, and the brilliance of all-natural sweeteners and nutrient-rich dessert options. Eat clean and plant-based and you can eat whatever your heart desires as long as it falls under that umbrella.
And if it doesn’t? Indulge in moderation!
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Photo: D Sharon Pruitt, Flickr Creative Commons