How to Give the Gift of Prevention This Holiday Season
December is a month flooded with parties, gift-giving, and holiday cheer in abundance. The festivities are accompanied by much eating, drinking and being merry, but there is one factor they all share: sugar. I am going to share some tips on how to avoid the overconsumption of sugar and give the gift of prevention to your loved ones this holiday season!
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans consume a whopping 150-170 pounds of sugar per year. That is the equivalent of 30 to 34 five-pound bags of sugar per person per year. The scary thing is that it all starts on a teaspoon-sized scale. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar, and we know that most Americans don’t stop there on a daily basis. It only takes four 12-ounce cans to reach a 1/4 pound of sugar. Soda is a common sugar culprit of the Standard American Diet, but unfortunately, it is only one of many.
Common Culprits in the Standard American Diet
The Standard American Diet menu typically consists of cereal with milk, orange juice, bagels, toast, donuts, pancakes, yogurt and/or fruit for breakfast. Every food on that list is guilty of the sharing the same common denominator of sugar whether it is in the form of refined sugar, carbohydrates, fructose, or lactose. Some of those foods can be modified to be healthier choices, but my point is that Americans tend to start the day with a lot of sugar. Breakfast is often followed by a coffee break with, you guessed it, more sugar. Speaking of coffee, many Americans like their coffee S-W-E-E-T. Black coffee is just boring so our taste buds opt for lattes, espressos, or cappuccinos with fructose-laden syrups and more refined sugar dumped in. Our blood sugar escalates at such a rapid rate that we end up crashing before lunchtime which sends us scurrying for more caffeine to give us energy. My pancreas gets exhausted just thinking about the demand we place on our bodies for the hormone insulin which brings our sky-rocketing glucose levels back within a semi-normal range. Our noon-day meal often consists of refined carbohydrates like pasta, pizza, or sandwiches followed by sugary dessert. This is starting to sound like a broken record isn’t it? At suppertime, we hopefully opt for a meat and veggies dish, but our good choice is over-shadowed by our bedtime cravings for snacks like ice cream, potato chips, or a candy bar. We crave something sweet at bedtime because we have programmed our brain to want sugar all the time.
Unfortunately, this vicious sugar cycle causes a lot of wear and tear on our bodies. Our pancreas is exhausted from producing insulin, our adrenals are exhausted from secreting more hormones to help balance our blood sugar, and our liver is exhausted from the demand to convert glucose to glycogen for storage. No wonder we are exhausted all the time and looking for more coffee or Red Bull.
Cancer Thrives on Sugar
Sugar has been identified as the top cause of the alarming surge in cancer rates. Sugar can contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction which can lead to DNA damage and result in cancer. According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute's 2013 study, as much as 40% of the US healthcare expenditures are for diseases directly related to the overconsumption of sugar. These expenditures include obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
I want you to take a moment to think about the Standard American Diet’s holiday menu. On top of the already sugar-loaded foods many consume on a daily basis, we add the following sugar culprits like:
- Christmas cookies
- Mulled cider
- Cinnamon rolls
- Hot Chocolate
I am not trying to make you guilty for enjoying the holiday season with a few treats, but I am concerned at the overconsumption of sugar in our country. Of course, we think holiday indulgence is no big deal, but after we’ve gained the pounds we find ourselves wishing we hadn’t baked quite so much. Here are some tips on how to avoid the sugar binging this holiday season:
- Eat a breakfast with healthy proteins and fats to avoid sugar cravings later in the day.
- Watch out for sugar in your drinks. Opt for alternative sweeteners like liquid stevia or coconut sugar which is lower on the glycemic index. If you must drink that store-bought eggnog, mellow it down with some unsweetened milk.
- Modify your recipes a little this year and try using a different form of sweetener. Stevia, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and erythritol are all sweeteners that are more health-friendly. Beware of artificial sweeteners like sucralose which can be more detrimental to your health than sugar. If you must use sugar in a recipe, opt for raw cane sugar which hasn’t been stripped of its nutrients and bleached with chemicals.
- Snack on healthy snacks like nuts or fruit when a bad case of the munchies hits you at a holiday party or family gathering. They will keep the cravings at bay!
- By all means, make some of your favorite treats this holiday season, but try to give away more than you eat. If you want to make goodies ahead for time’s sake, throw them in the freezer to avoid the temptation. Look at your schedule and determine which events you are going to let loose and which events you are going to watch your sugar intake. Your body can handle a lot of punishment, but it is when we make it a habit that it comes back to haunt us later.
In conclusion, don’t stress too much over your sugar intake this holiday season, but do try to be mindful of it. A mindful approach helps us to make health-conscious decisions every day, but stress is bad for your health. I hope these tips empower you to have a victorious holiday season over sugar! Don’t let your sweet tooth get the best of you!
Check out more great articles from EMaxHealth: A Guide to Vegan Coffee at Starbucks and Dunkin, Your Favorite Holiday Spice May Help To Burn Off Holiday Weight , and You Cannot Exercise Away A Bad Diet .