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updated: 10/26/2010 3:37 PM

Tame the sweet tooth

Ask the nutritionist

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Q. I want to eat healthfully, but sweets cravings are my downfall. What can I do?

A. The good news is that healthy eating does leave us with some room for sweets. Yet few of us can have a sweet drink or treat each time we see one and meet the goal of "moderation."

Is it seeing sweets or knowing they're around that draws you? Studies show that one way to reduce the tempting power of sweets is to limit variety. If ice cream or cookies are your weakness, stock one flavor at a time. Identify the sweets you enjoy most and try to stick only to those.

Some people find that using sweets only for dessert, rather than snacks, makes it easier to limit them and decreases cravings. One study found that after two weeks of eating chocolate twice a day, 15 to 30 minutes after a meal, chocolate cravers reduced their desire for chocolate. But both cravers and non-cravers who ate chocolate daily between meals ended up with increased desire for chocolate.

The researchers suggested that regularly using chocolate to satisfy hunger teaches us to crave it. If true, that could apply to other sweets, too. Normalizing sweets can also gradually reduce cravings that are rebound effects of overly restrictive dieting.

If your cravings are emotion-related, each time you use sweets to cope with emotions the pattern may become stronger. Try not to focus on what you don't want to do (eat sweets) and focus instead on nonfood strategies you've identified to respond to emotions and stress.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. More about the group and its New American Plate program at

Q. Has the advice about alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk changed?

A. Overall, studies seem to be confirming earlier advice from the American Institute for Cancer Research that alcohol consumption should be minimized to reduce breast cancer risk. Most official advice states that women should drink "no more than one standard alcoholic drink per day," with the understanding that even this amount does pose some breast cancer risk.

A recent study of breast cancer survivors found that women drinking three or more standard alcoholic drinks per week had a 35 percent increased risk of recurrence compared to non-drinkers.

Alcohol may affect some women more strongly than others. For example, women with low vegetable and fruit consumption could be at more risk from alcohol. Their resulting low consumption of antioxidants and the B vitamin folate leaves them vulnerable to the folate-depleting effects of alcohol and less able to repair the DNA damage from the free radicals that form as alcohol is metabolized.

Alcohol particularly increases risk of the common estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers, which may be why postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese (and thus generally have higher estrogen levels) seem to show more alcohol-related risk in some studies.

Overall, studies suggest a small increase in breast cancer risk with one standard alcoholic drink per day (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor). Risk increases with higher consumption. That said, when it comes to postmenopausal breast cancer, a healthy weight and regular physical activity are protective, so don't lose sight of those targets in your strategy to lower breast cancer risk.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. More about the group and its New American Plate program at