It’s the best time of the year! Decorations, holiday music, food, and all the sugar — everywhere. Before you go all out on the holiday diet you’re planning (AKA “holiday calories don’t count and New Years resolutions are right around the corner”), we want to give you a little more insight about sugar. Maybe this information will help you make more informed choices when you’re surrounded by all the sugary goodness! Don’t get us wrong, we love sweets as much as the next person, but we want to make sure you’re picking the right kind of sweets when you indulge.
Oh, sugar. So sweet. So good. So tempting. Sugar is delicious, and during the holidays, it’s everywhere we look! In pies, candies, drinks. Everything just seems to taste a little better when it’s full of sugary goodness. There’s a reason for that. Sugar actually affects your brain chemicals. When we eat sugar, it releases dopamine (the chemical that triggers happiness) into our brains. Our brains are very sensitive to sugar, so the dopamine response is strong. That’s why it’s so easy to get addicted to it! Sugar creates such a strong dopamine response that newborns are given sugar instead of pain killers!!
Sugar is actually necessary for our body to function (or at least glucose is), but the problem is that it’s so addictive, and we develop such a tolerance for it, that we keep wanting more and more. Too much sugar can be extremely problematic. It is responsible for obesity, blood sugar complications, can feed cancer cells, and more! And, many foods already convert to sugar naturally.
Processed sugar (or refined sugar) is sugar that is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. The sugars from these plants are taken and used specifically for sweetening foods. There is nothing in it to slow the digestion of the sugar, so it is absorbed quickly into the blood stream and causes your blood sugar to spike quickly. That quick spike is actually the addictive property in sugar that makes us want more and more but also build up a tolerance.
Natural sugar is sugar that occurs naturally in foods like fruit and dairy. The thing about foods that have natural sugar is that most of them also have fiber or protein that help break down the sugars and slow the digestive process. They also have lots of other vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. When it comes to processed sugars, all of those great things are removed from the food, and all we get is that addictive sugar rush and nothing to show for it. Not really worth it, is it? At least, it’s not usually worth it. Like we said, it’s okay to splurge sometimes, but not in excess. If you do splurge, don’t go crazy and try to pair it with something that has a little more substance to it.
Like we’ve said before, we love sugar, too! Honestly, life is all about balance, and we don’t want you to feel like anything with refined sugar is terrible for you! We just want you to know what kind of sugar is a better nutritional choice so you can make informed decisions when you’re out. If you see an amazing crème brûlée and you just can’t say no, go for it! Life if short! But, don’t eat that and a million other super sugary sweets if you have other options.
Fruit is a great choice when you’re craving something sweet. If you can’t settle for just fruit, look for fruit dipped in chocolate. That way, you’re still getting fiber and vitamins. If something is made with nuts, you’ll get fiber and a little protein, so that’ll help satiate you and slow down absorption. Also, things sweetened with honey or maple syrup are always a better option than cane sugar or corn syrup.
If you’re bringing a dessert, think about what you’re putting in it. Is there fiber, protein, or something else of substance? Can you try a paleo dessert option? What about a dessert hummus? Anything with a decent amount of protein, fiber, or substance will be a great contribution.
We get it. This is the time of year that people go all out. Don’t feel guilty for choosing the delicious Christmas cookies or peppermint bark. Just make sure you practice self-control and limit yourself. You don’t want to go overboard and regret it! When you choose the indulgence, take the time to savor it. Enjoy it! Just don’t overdo it. Save that splurge for the thing you’re really looking forward to and make more wholesome choices so you don’t feel bad when you *do* decide to get the Christmas pudding!