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'Sweet Tooth' Types Drawn to Fruit

Study finding may help keep diets healthy, experts say

WEDNESDAY, July 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Folks with a sweet tooth know they're drawn to candy bars and ice cream. But research suggests this group also finds fruit more appealing -- a fact that could be turned to their advantage.

"The take-home message here is that if you are a self-identified sweet lover, try to replace a few sugary snacks with more healthful sweet snacks that are packed with nutrients, not just sugar and calories," said Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

She wasn't involved in the study, which was led by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

"If someone does have a sweet tooth, the same desire for sugar that leads them to eat candy is also the same desire that leads them to be predisposed to fruit," Wansink said.

His team published the findings in the August issue of the journal Appetite.

The report included two studies. In one, Wansink's group analyzed data from an ongoing U.S. Department of Agriculture's consumer survey. They found that those who love sweet snacks also eat more fruits each day than do salty-snack lovers. Even accounting for total snack consumption of all kinds, sweet snack consumption had more than twice the impact on fruit consumption than did salty-snack intake.

In the second part of the report, the Cornell team focused on 405 people with a strong preference for either fruits or vegetables.

Definite taste trends emerged. The researchers found that fruit lovers ate more sweet snacks than veggie lovers did. In fact, fruit lovers ate sweet snacks more than 15 times a week, while vegetable lovers ate sweet snacks about 11 times weekly.

On the other hand, vegetable lovers indulged in salty snacks 15 times a week, while fruit lovers turned to salty snacks just over 11 times a week.

According to Wansink, this means individuals should "play to your taste preferences to get in your fruits and vegetables."

Parents can use their child's sweet/salt preferences as a means of nudging them toward healthier foods, and adults can use the information to help improve their own eating habits, he added.

For instance, sweet-tooth types can gradually replace some of the high-cal, low-nutrition snacks they love with much healthier fruit, Wansink suggested. Instead of strawberry ice cream, for example, switch to a much smaller portion of vanilla ice cream and add real strawberries on top. You'll get more fruit, less sugar -- and still satisfy that craving.

It all makes sense to Sandon, who is also an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"I would much prefer a sweet snack over a salty one, and I definitely get my recommended 3-4 servings of fruits a day," she said. But Sandon also has a way to get in more veggies: She picks the sweeter ones, such as cherry or grape tomatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes, sweet corn and sugar snap peas.

Another idea that works, Sandon said, is to mix fruit with a snack, like nuts mixed with raisins or dried cranberries. This might mean eating a big bowl of mixed berries with a tablespoon of light whipped topping, or adding raisins to a non-sweetened cereal instead of eating a cereal with added sugar.

Other tips: Put fruit on top of cake instead of frosting, or make a spinach salad sweeter and more appealing by adding blueberries or strawberries.

"Sometimes adding a little sweetness will help the good-for-you foods go down," Sandon said.

More information

There's much more on good nutrition at the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Brian Wansink, Ph.D. professor and director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Lona Sandon, R.D., spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, and assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; August 2006 Appetite
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