Dietitian reveals how many ‘treats’ is too many

While treats are a great part of life, there’s a limit to everything. Dietitian Susie Burrell suggests how you can enjoy all your favourite cheeky snacks in moderation. 

Small children are not the only ones who are easily lured by a ‘treat’.

Whether your treat is a cheeky glass of wine (or two) each night, a pastry with your morning coffee or a couple of rows of dark chocolate, treats are a part of the daily food regime for many. And while an occasional treat poses no issue, overeating at night – especially on processed, calorie dense junk food – or snacking all day, is not only conducive to weight gain over time, but it can literally send our overall calorie intake through the roof and be a challenging habit to break.

So, if you know that your treats have got a little out of hand, or have not taken the time before to reflect on exactly how many treats you are indulging in each day, it may be time to conduct your very own treat audit.

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What is a treat?

A ‘treat’ or a discretionary food, is a food that does not offer any strong nutritional properties that would make it a ‘core’ food in which we should base our diet. Treats are generally high calorie, high sugar, and or high fat foods that may offer much taste and pleasure, but not any essential nutrients such as protein, good fats, dietary fibre or vitamins and minerals.

As such, treats can add plenty of extra calories into our diet for not a lot of nutrition. Alcohol, too, falls into this category as an ‘extra’ we do not need for basic physiological functioning.

How many calories do our favourite treats contain?

The issue with treats from a nutritional perspective is that they tend to be packed full of empty calories and exceptionally easy to overeat. With a single, small serve of chocolate, lollies, cake or even wine containing at last 150-200 calories that we can demolish in a matter of minutes, it is easy to see where treats can so easily be over eaten.

When you consider that a small female requires around 1500 calories each day, an additional 300-400 extra calories via chocolate and a couple of glasses of wine can slowly lead to weight gain.

Where do we go wrong?

There is no one food that is ‘bad’ for us or will make us gain weight, but there are a few issues that are related to our perception and habits that are associated with treat intake.

Firstly, treats can very quickly become something we indulge in multiple times each day – there is the treat of a muffin or croissant at the coffee shop on the way to work; the treat to help get you through the long afternoon along with a sweet treat after dinner. All of these treats add up to more than 600 extra calories finding their way into our day as opposed to an occasional indulgence once or twice a week.

The second issue with ‘treats’ is that they very quickly become daily habits, as the body seeks the same sweet, salty or relaxation hit we get from foods such as ice-cream, chocolate and wine. What started as an occasional sweet hit after a long day quickly becomes a nightly dessert, and even binge.

Why are treats such an issue?

There is nothing wrong with the treat itself, but as the average treat contains 200 or more calories per serve, you can basically be consuming an extra meal each day of extra calories that you do not even count as part of your daily intake. If you are happy with your weight, this is not as much of an issue. But if you are constantly frustrated that your weight is not changing, going cold turkey on a few treats may be a powerful reminder of the damage they are doing.

What is a reasonable treat?

If we take a closer look at calorie intake, on average three small meals will offer at least 1000 of the 1200-1500 most of us will need. This means you will have 200-500 calories each day you can allocate to snacks and potentially treats. For most people this equates to one small 100-200 calorie treat each day to prevent weight gain. If weight loss is the goal, you may need to limit the number of treats to just once or twice a week.

How many calories in our favourite treats?

Just 20g, a small Freddo frog or Lindt ball contains 100 calories, as does a small glass of wine, a single chocolate biscuit, and a small individual ice-cream such as a Paddle Pop or Halo Top serve. Here, portion control is the key, as chances are if you buy the block of chocolate you will most likely eat a lot more than the two to three squares you initially set out to eat.

Some other tricks

If you find you have a lot of difficulty controlling yourself once you succumb to a ‘treat’, another option may be to limit treat occasions each week. For example, you may enjoy dessert, or a decent sized chocolate bar, a more indulgent ice-cream or a few glasses of wine a couple of times each week as opposed to limiting yourself to small portions on every day of the week.