We are in the thick of the holiday season, and sugar is rampant everywhere, leaving our sweet tooth at its mercy. This week alone, I’ve prepared several batches of cookies and have received an array of treat baskets. I’ve had to rely heavily on good habits I’ve instilled throughout the year. I want to share some of these strategies with you. You can survive the holiday sugar rush while enjoying yourself and making healthy choices for you and your family.
First, let’s take a look at sugar in our modern-day lives.
Addicted to Sugar without Realizing
You might be addicted to sugar and not even realize it because it’s a daily fixture in your life. Let’s say you grab a grande mocha frappuccino with your breakfast; that contains 58 grams of sugar!
Now it’s lunchtime, and you grab a coke or Gatorade to accompany your meal. That’s another whopping 34-39 grams of sugar. In addition, there’s a constant offering of christmas desserts. With ongoing exposure and accessibility to highly palatable foods, it’s easy to see how we can overconsume sugar in our modern-day society.
Our bodies require sugar to a certain extent. The brain relies almost entirely on glucose for energy—the type of sugar and total consumption matter. Most of us consume more sugar per day than experts recommend.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day.
These are the AHA’s recommendations on daily sugar intake:
- Women: 24 grams or 6 teaspoons
- Men: 36 grams or 9 teaspoons
- Children 2-18: Less than 24 grams or 6 teaspoons per day
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults and children reduce their daily sugar consumption to less than 10% of their total calories.
Excess sugar contributes to several chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (specifically from fructose).
Sugar Listed on Food Labels
How often have you been confused with an item’s nutrition label and list of ingredients? Myself? Plenty! Sometimes it feels like you need a chemistry degree to figure it out.
Here are the many names for sugar you might see on a food label: (these are just some)
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrates
High-fructose corn syrup
It has become less complicated to recognize added sugars since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now lists “added sugars” on nutrition facts labels. This comes from their website: “Having the word “includes” before added sugars on the label indicates that added sugars are included in the number of grams of total sugars in the product.”
Some seemingly “healthy” products that may have hidden sugars are pasta sauces, non-fat yogurts, dried fruits, and peanut butter spreads.
Remember these important facts when deciphering food labels, 4 grams of sugar equal 1 teaspoon; the ingredients listed on the item’s food label are in descending order by weight. In other words, the first ingredient makes up most of the product’s weight, while the last one weighs the least.
As consumers, we must learn to recognize and avoid added sugar in prepackaged foods, which are more harmful to our health than those in whole foods. Take back your health and skip products with ingredients you don’t recognize.
Strategies to Beat Sugar Cravings
Eat a healthy breakfast
Set your day up for success by eating a well-balanced breakfast. Studies show that people who regularly have breakfast tend to have a lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Skipping breakfast can contribute to feeling sluggish and affect your concentration and memory. All these things can lead you to make poor eating choices later on in the day. If you don’t typically eat breakfast, notice when you have your last meal. Maybe you’re eating late at night and don’t wake up hungry. Try setting that meal back an hour or reducing your portions.
So, what makes up a healthy, well-balanced breakfast? An energy-sustaining breakfast will contain protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. For instance, a veggie omelet with sweet potato hash and avocado, hard-boiled eggs (make them in batches, so you have them on hand for busy days) with whole grain toast, and Greek yogurt with fruits, nuts or seeds, or Quinoa porridge with fruit toppings.
Don’t go hungry
The aim here is to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. If you skip meals to “save calories” for a celebration, it will backfire as your blood sugar crashes, and you reach for all the decadent desserts in front of you. Eat every 3-4 hours to maintain energy levels and avoid blood sugar crashes.
Sip water throughout the day
Staying hydrated never gets old. Dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and sugar cravings. Dehydration makes it difficult for your body to tap into glycogen (the stored form of glucose) for energy. Next time a sugar craving hits, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. Carry a portable water bottle with you always; if you regularly forget to hydrate, set reminders on your digital device.
Bake at home
Sure, it’s convenient to purchase ready-made cookies and desserts, but if you are reading this, you want to start making a healthy change. Baking at home gives you a significant payback for your efforts. For one, you control the sugar type and quantity. You’ll have fewer artificial ingredients (or none at all!). You can swap saturated fats for healthier options such as yogurt, pumpkin puree, or applesauce.
Planning is simple and super helpful. Before leaving for a holiday party, have a snack packed with protein and fiber. Here are some suggestions, apple slices with natural peanut butter, avocado toast, cottage cheese with nuts, and berries. You’ll arrive satiated and with a clear mind. At home, keep healthy snacks accessible. Make the healthy choice, the easy choice.
Don’t sweat it
The holidays come with their own set of stress. Taking care of your health should not stress you out further. Routinely include relaxing activities you enjoy to manage stress and replenish your peace. You will be in a better state of mind to make choices that align with your values and goals. If one day you overindulge in the sweet stuff, either by choice or by pressure, remember, one day will not wreck you – overthinking and self-shaming will. Move on.
People tend to gain 2-5 pounds during the holidays (most of it will be water weight from all the carbs). If you’re eating more, drinking more at parties and events, stay physically active to avoid excess weight gain. The holidays are a time to slow down and not focus on losing weight. Keep your health at the forefront. Build habits you can rely on to maintain your fitness throughout the year. If you’re ready to start making small healthy changes that will increase your energy level, help you make better food choices, and boost your strength and stamina, I invite you to join my Free 30-Day Online Challenge. It starts in January!
Wishing you a Merry Christmas!
Stand tall Breathe deep,