The words “holiday treats” conjure up delightful visions of cakes, cookies, meringues, chocolates, cupcakes, brownies, fudge, and other treats dripping with syrups and sweet sauces, glazed with frosting, or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
OK, the last several months have been difficult, so enjoy some of your mother’s chocolate mint dream cookies . . . in moderation.
But remember that many of us pay a price when we overindulge in sugar. By not managing sugar intake, the costs to your health may include:
- Tooth decay
- Type 2 diabetes
- High triglyceride levels, which are linked to heart disease and stroke
Also, a study in the journal Diabetologia found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar levels, even if their blood sugar levels may or may not have qualified them as having diabetes.
In addition, sugar can be addictive because it releases dopamine (a chemical messenger that plays a role in feeling pleasure) to the reward center of the brain, which produces cravings for more sugar. This may make it hard to give up sugar all at once. Some experts suggest cutting back in steps. For example, if you take 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, first cut it back to 1.5 teaspoons, and then keep reducing the amount by half a teaspoon. You can also substitute cinnamon, vanilla extract, or unsweetened cocoa powder to compensate.
So, are there some strategies for managing sugar intake that will let us have our sweets without endangering our health? Yes, there are.
Where Does Sugar Hide?
Before reducing our sugar intake, we need to know the foods and beverages that contain significant quantities of it. You may be surprised where it lurks:
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Instant oatmeal
- Pasta sauce
- Canned soup
- Granola bars
- Processed foods
- Salad dressings
- Some flavored waters
Check the nutrition facts labels on the foods and drinks you purchase. According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day. For women, it is 25 grams.
10 Sugar Alternatives
But the news isn’t all bad. There are ways to beat a sugar addiction.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce sugar consumption:
- Drink water or calorie-free or reduced-sugar beverages
- Eat whole fruits instead of the processed variety
- Use fruit to sweeten cereal instead of sugar
- Snack on vegetables
- Opt for unsweetened foods
- Add flavors—vanilla, cinnamon, citrus
- Grill or roast fruits to bring out their natural sweetness
- Eat dark chocolate which contains less sugar than milk chocolate
- Avoid foods that need sugar added (sweeten your plain yogurt with fruit)
- Use a healthy sugar substitute (see below).
(Note: People with diabetes should be aware that food labels like “sugar-free,” ”reduced sugar,” or “no sugar added” are not necessarily carbohydrate-free or lower in carbohydrates than the original version of the food.)
Healthline also provides “17 Healthy and Delicious Alternatives to Candy.”
Take Caution Managing Sugar Intake with Sugar Substitutes
There are four categories of sugar substitutes:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugar alcohols
- Novel sweeteners
- Natural sweeteners
All sugar substitutes are not created equal. In fact, there are some that should be avoided. Healthline provides a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of some natural sugar alternatives.
The Mayo Clinic also provides information on the good and not-so-good qualities of artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
(Note: High-fructose corn syrup is an artificial sugar villain that can cause serious health issues like fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. It also has been linked to inflammation, cell damage, and uric acid production which causes gout.)
A Gift to Yourself this Holiday Season
By cutting down on sugar during the holidays, you will be able to give yourself and your family the gift of better health, and you can carry that with you the rest of the year.
For more tips to stay healthy all year, browse the Health & Wellness articles on our blog.