Dietitian explains ‘treat maths’ to help control your snacking and portion sizes

Living in isolation has a lot of us eating our feelings and snacking more than we probably should. But where do we draw the line? Dietitian Susie Burrell explains how you can still indulge in a daily ‘treat’, if you know the numbers to back it up. 

It is just by chance that many of them begin with the letter c – chocolate, chips, cake and cheese? I’m talking about the tasty foods that lure us in, distract us from our diet and lifestyle goals, and taste so bloody good it’s near impossible to limit them to ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasional’ foods.

Whether your favourite of these foods are sweet or savoury, these high calorie, high fat or high sugar foods can play havoc when it comes to weight control, especially if we tend to indulge at night.

Specifically, it is the rich flavour profiles of these foods that essentially encourage our brains to eat more and more. Whether it’s the creamy texture of cheese, or the myriad of sweet and salty flavours found in pre-packaged foods like chips, chocolate and baked goods, they all tempt us to eat more than we should.

Most of us would like to know how we can achieve a balance between enjoying little indulgence and avoiding the extra kilos that can pile on. Especially when we down an entire block of chocolate or packet of chips each day (not that I’d know anything about that…).

So if you love nothing more than a slice of homemade cake each afternoon, or look forward to something salty after dinner, here are the numbers you need to know to strike a balance between enjoying your favourite treats but also effortlessly maintaining your weight.

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Chocolate

Chocolate is a food close to the top of many people’s favourites list, and it’s the combo of creamy fat and sweet sugars – in milk chocolate in particular – that makes it so easy to inhale. Unfortunately for our waistlines, chocolate is particularly energy dense with a small 25 gram row containing more than 100 calories, and seven grams of fat. Whilst dark chocolate is often referred to as a ‘healthier option’, it too is pretty calorie dense with similar amounts of fat and calories.

In the chocolate aisle the secret to success comes down to portion control, and not being lured by a family block unless you can make it last a week. A daily serve translates into just 20 to 30 grams, or 100 to 150 calories, especially if the goal is weight control. That means the equivalent of one or two Lindt balls, a Freddo Frog or just four to six individual squares from a chocolate block.

Recommendation: One 20 – 30g serve, once a day = 100 – 150 calories

Cheese

Cheese is a little different to other sweet delights, as it does contain a number of key nutrients including protein and calcium, and it could be argued that it is also slightly more difficult to overeat compared to foods like chips and chocolate. A 30 gram serve of cheese, or the equivalent of a couple of slices, or a matchbox-sized portion, clocks in at 100 to 120 calories and seven to 10g of fat.

From a nutritional perspective this means that you can enjoy a serve of cheese each day, whether this is in cooking, as a salad addition or toast topper, or as a filling snack when teamed with fresh fruit or wholegrain crackers. It may also be helpful to know that white cheese including ricotta, feta and goats cheese are slightly lower in fat and calories than full-fat yellow cheeses. You can also easily keep your cheese portions until control when you use grated varieties, or slice using a cheese shaver.

Recommendation: One 30g serve, once a day = 100 – 120 calories

Cake

Cake may have featured more heavily on your meal plan in recent weeks thanks to the baking resurgence. Since cake is generally made using lashings of butter, sugar and white flour, it can be a little more challenging to feature cake in your meal plan on a daily basis.

With even a healthy cake containing 200 to 300 calories per serve, or the equivalent of a small meal, cake is one food you are best to enjoy at most once or twice each week, as a heavy snack or dessert. If cake is your daily treat of choice, the key will be learning to slice thinly, or stick to a small 100 gram piece, or the equivalent of two matchboxes.

Recommendation: One 100g serve, once or twice a week = 100 – 150 calories

Chips

Chips like chocolate can be tricky to manage as they tend to come in large pack sizes, and let’s be honest, who stops after just a handful? Plain varieties which are made using little other than potato, oil and salt will help to contain the overeating that can stem from heavily flavoured varieties. Stick to a single serve – which is just 20 grams, or that found in a kid-sized lunch box packet. This portion will give you just over 100 calories and seven grams of fat.

Recommendation: One 20g serve, once a day = 100 calories

Ice-cream

While it does not start with a C, it is another treat food that we often reach for after dinner. The good news is that there is a growing range of ‘healthier’, calorie-controlled ice-creams and ice blocks that will satisfy your urge for something cold and sweet, minus the extra fat and calories.

Heavier, full cream flavoured ice-cream contains up to 200 calories per serve, but smaller serves of plain ice-cream contains roughly half that, and individual plain ice-blocks and bars clock in at 80 to 110 calories and only two to five grams of fat per serve. So if ice-cream is on your list of favourite treats opt for these lighter options, and leave the more indulgent tubs for an occasional treat a couple of times month.

Recommendation: One small serve of plain ice-cream, once or twice a week = 80 – 110 calories