Halloween Candy, Thanksgiving Pie and Christmas Cookies... Oh My!
As we approach the beginning of fall, we begin the trifecta of the end of year holidays. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching and along with the excitement for the upcoming celebrations, there comes the indulgence of the many festive treats. From the cookies, cakes, cocktails and countless other comfort foods, it seems like there is temptation at every turn. The holiday season is a time where health gets de-prioritized and we give ourselves a free pass to consume all the sugary treats with the mindset of "It's the holidays!"
Fast forward three months and we are at January and New Years resolutions are being made in desperation to reverse all the damage that has been done. Instead of feeling guilty and having to go through this vicious cycle over and over again each year, or feeling like you need to deprive yourself through the holidays, there's a much more sustainable approach. It's becoming aware of the hidden sugars in your diet so you can avoid them and then it's about making conscious indulgences when you want to partake in the festive sweets.
It is shocking to discover the many places sugar is hidden in the foods we eat everyday. Sugar can sneak into:
- Sports drinks
- BBQ sauce
- Pasta sauce
- Fat free salad dressings
- Alcoholic beverages
- Fruit smoothies
- Peanut butter
- Flavored Yogurt
- Coffee drinks
It's important to review labels and look for key words that are code for sugar. Companies create these products and on the ingredient label they use different names for sugar, some sounding natural, which can be very deceiving to consumers. For example, food manufacturers can add "fruit juice concentrate" into products like jams and fruit snacks and then claim that there is "no sugar added". Be weary of labels that read "low fat" or "all natural" because often times they are used to disguise sugar or other unhealthy ingredients. It can be overwhelming to discover the amount of foods that have sugar hidden in them so a good rule of thumb is to avoid as much processed foods as possible and try to cook at home.
So why is sugar such a problem for adults and children in the US and what are the health risks associated with over consumption?
Sugar is highly addictive because it has an opiate like effect on your brain. The more that you consume it, the more you want it since it lights up the pleasure receptors in your brain. Also, physiologically you will be craving it for energy since we burn sugar and fat for fuel. When you eat sugar you raise your blood sugar and when your blood sugar is raised you raise insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is released which stores sugar in your cells and gets stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen to drive the blood sugar back down. This effects your energy, focus and your weight. Sugar addiction has become a huge epidemic and is contributing to the degradation of health in the country. There are many diseases linked to over consumption of sugar such as...
Fatty liver disease
Along with the list above, certain types of cancers can be fed by too much sugar consumption. Cancer cells can only survive on sugar for fuel, unlike our cells which can utilize fat or sugar. Fat is also a much cleaner burn for your body. This is why a ketogenic diet has gained a lot of popularity.
Sugar comes in various forms and all sugar isn't created equally.
For example, there's glucose (blood sugar) that acts as fuel for our body and then there's fructose that metabolizes in your liver and can get stored as fat. Fructose doesn't raise blood sugar which in turn doesn't affect your hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin, tricking your body into thinking that you had nothing to eat. The danger of this is it causes the sugar to go straight to the liver and it gets stored as fat. It's important to know what you should eat that will give you steady blood sugar control. Keep in mind that certain forms of sugar cause your blood sugar to spike more than others. All carbohydrates break down into sugar molecules except for fiber. So avoiding simple carbohydrates and watching out for hidden sugars will stabilize your blood sugar. This is why ensuring your meals are well balanced with plenty of healthy fats, a good source of protein and fresh fiber from vegetables can regulate your blood sugar and help stop that sugar addiction.
These natural sweeteners are a much better substitute to processed forms of sweeteners such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners but they should still be consumed in moderation. Substituting these refined sugar alternatives in your treats is one way to ensure you are making healthier choices during the holiday season. Be mindful of fruit as well. There are many fruits that are high in natural sugar so think of fruit like dessert and be careful to not over indulge. Track your food daily in a food journal for a week so you will be able to see your eating habits and hold yourself accountable.
By cutting sugar from your diet, you will see remarkable health benefits.
So does that mean you must say goodbye to sugar forever?
No, that is not sustainable nor is it enjoyable. The problem is in the over consumption of sugar. Moderation is key. Rather than making a habit of binging and then doing crash diets or cleanses to get back on track, make eating healthy a lifestyle. If you are eating well the vast majority of the time, then enjoy that occasional dessert in moderation and ensure it doesn't become a habit. There will be a time and place where you will want to indulge so do it consciously and don't regret the decision.
Now, when the holidays come, you will know what foods to avoid that contain the unnecessary added sugar, be able to choose better refined sugar substitutes and know how to consciously indulge in sweets without having any feelings of guilt!