Dear Food Speak: A friend of mine says eating dessert can help you lose weight. That sounds crazy to me. Is it true?



Advice that sweet may sound silly, but research shows it actually holds some truth.

Your friend may be talking about a study published last spring that showed obese participants who followed a low-calorie menu plan which included a high-calorie breakfast (high in protein and carbohydrates, including dessert) were better able to keep lost pounds off than those who ate a lower-calorie, lower-carb breakfast without sweets.

The study's dessert-at-breakfast eaters were also found to have lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone known to stimulate appetite. That's impressive because dieting-induced weight loss usually triggers cravings and drops ghrelin suppression which promotes weight regain.

I'm certainly not promoting that you trade in your oatmeal for cookies. Here's hoping you learn three valuable lessons about weight control from this study.

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By Courtney Sansonetti

First, it shows that meal composition matters. Participants in the study reported a high level of fullness when they ate dessert as part of a breakfast blend of carbs, protein and fat. That might look like two scrambled eggs and a slice of cheese on an English muffin beside a Greek yogurt and small donut.

Second, pay attention to not just what you eat, but when. Breakfast-with-dessert eaters in the study consumed 600 calories for breakfast, 500 calories at lunch then 300 calories for dinner.

The opposite was true for the modest breakfast eaters: 300 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 600 at dinner.

While the latter non-sweet-eaters lost weight, they also gained back weight weeks later. This shows that it simply doesn't pay to save up your calories for later in the day.

Last, but not least, this study depicts sweets as portion-controlled. The point is that by giving yourself unconditional permission to regularly enjoy sweets in moderation, you shouldn't crave more than a small amount. This approach may take practice and a leap of faith for those who find sweets a strong trigger for overeating.

A recent study out of Cornell University reassures that it's possible. In the study, people who were given smaller portion sizes of sweets found them to be just as satisfying as larger ones. People given larger portions of sweets obviously ate more, but reported they did not feel more satisfied.

Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Food Speak column appears monthly. Email your questions to: