by Colleen Cackowski
It seems inevitable that during the holiday season, everyone’s consumption of sweets starts to increase. Sweet is the first flavor we as humans prefer from birth, so you could say our brains are hardwired to choose sweet things. Carbohydrates, including sugar, stimulate the release of the mood chemical, serotonin. Sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us, and offer a natural “high”, so biochemically we also look for that satisfaction and peace in foods. Many of us were rewarded when we were younger with sugary treats and that may have started an emotional cycle of attachment to sweet things when we want to feel good. The more we indulge that desire, the more the possibility of hard-to-control cravings or food addictions may manifest.
It is possible to enjoy a healthy amount of sweets, especially when they come from whole food sources, but the problem comes when we overdo it and indulge more often than now-and-then. Added sugar is prevalent in so many packaged products that we may even be overdoing it without being aware.
Many Americans today consume about a kilo of sugar every week. 200 years ago added sugar was almost non-existent. It’s no wonder that so many people now are struggling with obesity, diabetes and more. So what can we do around the holidays to ensure we don’t overdo it with the sugar and sweets? We have some tips to help you survive the sugar season!
- Go cold turkey! If you are the type of person who can simply just give up simple sugars, then go for it! Any cravings for sweet things will disappear in a matter of days when you focus on feeding your body healthy proteins, fats, and a limited amount of complex carbs, mostly in the form of veggies (and plenty of those).
- If it’s not easy to stop at one bite, try combining your treat with other foods so you get something healthy along with your less-than-healthy indulgence. The goodness of the healthy component will hopefully satisfy your appetite and make you feel full so you can stop eating more easily. Make sure you stick to a limit when giving yourself a treat – like 150 calories or less.
- When that sugar craving hits, take a moment to breathe and see if you can discover the underlying cause for your desire to indulge. Is there an emotional reason? Are you feeling bored? Are you trying to distract yourself from some kind of stress? Food is a common way we divert attention from what is really happening in our lives and sugary foods in particular can shut down our ability to process what really needs attention. Pause and see if what really needs to happen in this moment is about food or something else.
- When you know exactly what kind of damage sugar does to your body, it’s easier to just say “no” and limit your intake. Before you put that cookie in your mouth, remind yourself that the sugar will pull minerals from your body, spike your blood sugar, feed cancer cells and candida, depress your immune system, weaken eyesight, contribute to osteoporosis, and probably add some extra unwanted weight. Is it worth it?
- When a sugar craving hits, try having a cup of herbal tea or a warming broth with a little olive oil instead. Often being dehydrated can trigger a desire to eat when we really need to replenish fluids in the body.
- Break the cycle and take a walk around the block or go to the gym. Do something to change your energy state. Cravings can be based on emotional states so take some action to change your energy in a way that does not involve food.
- Don’t skip meals around the holidays. Try to keep your blood sugar even by eating every 4-5 hours and avoiding snacks in between. Choose to eat protein and fiber-rich foods or healthy fats and lots of greens and fresh produce over carbs and sugary treats. If you need a snack, opt for carrot and celery sticks with some nut butter, some hummus, or an apple.
- Reward yourself in healthy ways for sticking to your plan. Even if it’s something small like taking the time for a luxurious bath or taking yourself to a movie, you will feel better and stronger about yourself for making good choices.
- Notice where your extra calories might come in the form of beverages, especially alcohol. Drinks don’t have the fiber content to trigger satiety and the most common form of sugar, fructose, does not stop the hunger hormone, ghrelin, leaving you still looking for something more to eat. Eggnog, spiced cider, and holiday cocktails can really stack up the sugar so if you can, try to stick with the sparking water and lemon to save yourself the hangover or sugar crash you might otherwise experience.
- If you bake and share holiday goodies, swap out the sugar for stevia or xylitol or coconut sugar or a combo—or at least cut down the total sugar in place of processed white or brown sugar. When you reduce your overall sugar intake you will find that you become more sensitive to the sweet taste and less becomes more. Your pancreas will thank you! Add extra spices like cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg for a fuller flavor.
- When you receive a gift of baked goods, keep only a small portion of it out and put the rest in the freezer to be allocated slowly at a later time. Out of sight, out of mind…
- Remember that most carbs will turn to sugar eventually so don’t just think about cookies and cake, also limit portions or avoid altogether rich meals full of pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, cereal-, and other starches. These will no doubt add on the pounds and contribute to higher blood sugar levels.
- Read labels. Anything ending with the suffix “-ose” is a form of sugar: sucrose, glucose, fructose, etc. You may be surprised to see how many different forms of sugar are included in one product! Don’t let a “Reduced Sugar” label fool you – the product still contains added sugar.
- Find an accountability partner. Share your goals for reducing or cutting out sugar with them so there is another person to hold you accountable for your choices. You may find that you make fewer exceptions when you know you have to report to another person.
- Rather than having a whole serving of cake or pie, share a bite with a friend so you can have the taste without the overindulgence. Savor the mouthful and let it satisfy you as much as if you ate the whole thing. Enjoy more fruit-based desserts in place of flour and sugar-based desserts.
- Make yourself some healthy whole food snacks or treats to have on hand so you can indulge without crashing your diet. Check out our Cacao Bliss Ball recipe below for an easy and healthy snack that can be made in minutes and satisfy a sweet tooth healthfully with just 1 or 2 bites.
Cacao Bliss Balls**
1 cup of cashews blended until smooth or finely powdered
8 dates, pitted
2 TBS of raw organic honey
2 TBS jungle grown cacao powder
1 tsp vanilla extract or ½ tsp vanilla powder
1 cup of unsweetened dried coconut or coconut sugar or hemp seeds or jungle grown cacao nibs, etc. for coating
Goji berries, Jungle Grown Cacao Nibs, Raw nuts
Place cashews in a food processor and process until finely ground or smooth. Place all the remaining ingredients and process again until smooth. If you are adding optional extras like goji berries and/or jungle grown cacao nibs, add these last and pulse a few times so they get combined, but not pureed.
With a teaspoon, scoop a bit of the mixture and roll it into a ball with your hands. Then roll in whatever coating you choose: raw jungle grown cacao powder, hemp seeds, etc. Place the finished bliss balls on a plate and refrigerate until hard.
There are so many good reasons to reduce sugar intake. Place health at the top of your priority list and make a commitment to take care of yourself for yourself and your loved ones. You will feel the benefits in your body and your mind, and you may even be an inspiration to others around you to do the same.
**At Longevity Warehouse, we source only wild jungle grown cacao from heirloom trees in Ecuador. To read more, click here.