As we approach the happiest season of the year, we also find it can be the unhealthiest times as well. Everywhere you go there are cookies, candy and everything sugary imaginable. It starts before Halloween and goes way into the New Year. People bake and buy those chunks of goodness handing them out and sharing them with the people in their lives. How many people do you know who have a bowl of milk chocolate to share on their desk at work? How many trays of that labored love will be passed out as gifts for Christmas?
Looking at some history of the American diet we see once again how something good has been altered to create something bad that our bodies fight to digest and metabolize.
The United States is the largest consumer of sweeteners and one of the largest global sugar importers. We started in 1689 when the first sugar refinery was built in New York City. Colonists soon began to sweeten their breakfast porridge with refined sugar, and within 10 years individual consumption had reached 4 pounds a year. The average American now consumes more than 100 pounds of sugar and sweeteners per year. In contrast, Americans consume an average of about 8 pounds of broccoli. The USDA recommends we get no more than 10 teaspoons per day, yet most Americans eat about 30 teaspoons per day—that’s three times the liberal recommended daily value.
Humans love sweet things. Even before we started refining sugar, we sought out foods with sweet tastes. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods such as grains, beans, vegetables and fruit. When unprocessed, sugar contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and proteins. When brown rice or other whole grains are cooked, chewed and digested, the natural carbohydrates break down uniformly into separate glucose molecules. These molecules enter the bloodstream, where they are burned smoothly and evenly, allowing your body to absorb all the good stuff.
Refined table sugar, also called sucrose, is very different. Extracted from either sugar cane or beets, it lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber, and thus requires extra effort from the body to digest. The body must deplete its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb sucrose properly. Therefore, instead of providing the body with nutrition, it creates deficiency. It enters swiftly into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on the blood sugar level, first pushing it sky-high—causing excitability, nervous tension and hyperactivity—and then dropping it extremely low—causing fatigue, depression, weariness and exhaustion. Health-conscious people are aware that their blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly on a sugar-induced high, but they often don’t realize the emotional roller- coaster ride that accompanies this high. We feel happy and energetic but only for a while.
Sugar qualifies as an addictive substance for two reasons:
1. Eating even a small amount creates a desire for more.
2. Suddenly quitting causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, cravings and fatigue.
Today, sugar is found in many of the usual suspects, like cakes, cookies and candy. But you will also find it in canned vegetables, baby food, cereals, peanut butter, bread and tomato sauce. It is often disguised in fancy language, labeled as corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose or fructose. Even some so-called healthy foods contain sugar. A lemon poppy seed Cliff Bar has 21 grams of sugar, or 5 teaspoons. Compare that to a chocolate-glazed cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts, which has 14 grams of sugar, or 3 teaspoons. You may think your afternoon cup of coffee only has a little sugar, but a 16-ounce Starbucks Frappuccino actually contains 44 grams of sugar, or 10 teaspoons—that’s like eating three donuts! Overconsumption of refined sweets and added sugars found in everyday foods has led to an explosion of hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes.
We all have choices. As you can see eliminating sugar altogether is almost impossible. Because it is hidden in so many things we can pay attention to our own baked goods and recipes. Most recipes can be adapted to substitute healthier ingredients. One popular item is applesauce for sugar. There are the latest “healthy sugars” as well. Agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar. Don’t let these fool you though. They are still sugar processed in some form and can have the same effects as white table sugar.
I find the best choice is portion control. Having one cookie is different than a whole dozen. We would never allow our children to indulge in a whole bag of cookies. Knowing what you are eating is crucial in getting control of your sugar intake. Read the labels on packaged goods. A good guide is to find treats with 5 grams of sugar or less or as close to as possible. Once you start reading those labels it will give you a reality check on what you are really consuming.
The addictive part is the hardest. Eat more protein and healthy fats. Like any bad habit, the first 3 days are the toughest. The less sugar (or none at all) you consume the less you crave it. Your overall health and achy joints will thank you.
Instead of baking sugary gifts for your loved ones this year, find a new recipe for a healthy treat. I am dehydrating grass fed beef into beef jerky for my gifts. Because it is so different people love it, plus I know I wont be contributing to their unhealthiness. Giving a tray of baked goodies to a family who has a diabetic in the house is just wrong.
Eliminating food as gifts is another great way to make changes to becoming healthier. Flowers and candles are a good substitute for a hostess gift or one for the neighbors.
Finding the reason for the season and celebrating family is what makes this the best time of the year. Don’t wait for another New Year or another resolution to make changes in your lifestyle to create a healthier you.
Happy, healthy holidays!
Cindy can be reached by phone at 602-989-0599 or at email@example.com
Please visit my website www.cynergyhealthandwellness.com
Statistics and additional information written by Joshua Rosenthal, Institute for Integrative Nutrition