Remember last year’s post-Christmas dinner food coma?

We all know something about this sudden and all consuming lethargy. And there is every chance it was what you ate.

And as Christmas approaches this year, the news headlines are screaming blue murder about the perils of sugar. It’s no wonder you feel the need to beware of all the sugar present within food at Christmas time!

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But what’s the real truth about sugar, and how can you control sugar intake at this time of year?

This article presents four important facts about sugar, followed by four easy ways to break up with sugar, even though it’s ‘that time of year’.

The sugar controversy and 4 important facts

The impact of sugar consumption on health is a hotly debated topic in the world of science and nutrition. But despite the debate, some things are fairly certain, like these four important facts:

1.  Sugar can cause bloating

Party dress feeling a bit tight? In people with poor digestion (which can include a sluggish liver), sugar malabsorption can cause bloating.

2. Our brains respond differently to fructose than glucose

Does eating sugary foods make you want more? Fructose (‘fruit sugar’) does not stimulate lectin production (a hormone that regulates hunger and satiety) so when we eat fructose, we may end up overeating – though further research is required for conclusive proof (Stanhope, 2015).

3. Sugar consumption is linked with weight gain, fatty liver, diabetes and many others.

Gaining weight, especially around the middle?

The association between sugar intake and disease is mainly due to excess calorie intake, but of course, it could logically also be that there is a tendency to eat sugary foods in place of more nutritious foods.

4. Sugar is highly addictive (especially when you’re stressed).

Craving sugar? Research shows that excess sugar consumption may be a difficult habit to break, especially if you’re stressed.

In this case, you’re also more vulnerable to obesity and related conditions (Tryon et. al., 2015).

The research around Glycemic Index (GI) shows that ‘high GI’ foods can cause a rapid blood sugar spike followed by a rapid drop, which can cause you to reach for more sugar and/or more food.

How much sugar?

In 2015 the World Health Organisation revised their sugar intake guidelines to less than 10% of daily calories or, even better, below 5% of daily calories.

That’s about 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (24g), per adult.

In Australia the average adult eats more than 27 teaspoons per day. In other words, most Australians could afford to reduce sugar intake by 75%.

People who have insulin, leptin or weight problems may also need to consider their intake of fructose, found in fruit (fresh or dried) or high fructose corn syrup.

4 easy ways to break up with sugar

Even though it’s shaping up to be another sugary Christmas, it is absolutely possibly to break up with sugar or simply manage your intake with a few simple tricks.

Here are four easy ways to break up with (or cut down on) sugar.

1. Beware hidden sugars in Christmas foods – know, avoid, substitute

sugar christmas_2Of course, sugar can be found in some fairly obvious places – anything involved in desserts, biscuits, shortbreads, cakes, chocolates and puddings.

But sugar in all its forms is hidden in everything from cocktails to Christmas fare.

In fact, hidden sugar is one of the biggest challenges if you are trying to be healthy and manage your weight.

Luckily, if you know where it hides, you can choose better, low or no-sugar alternatives.

Foods with Hidden Sugar

– Dried or canned cranberries, cranberry sauces
– Custards and sweet sauces
– Agave
– Dried fruits
– Fruit yoghurts
– Christmas ‘fruit breads’
– Chinese takeaway (on those ‘I’m too tired to cook’ days)
– Savoury sauces (e.g. tomato/pasta sauce, barbecue sauce)
Salad dressings
– Candied nuts
– Alcoholic drinks (mixer drinks)
– Energy drinks (think post-party pickups)
– Any recipes you make that contain sugar

Better Alternatives 

– Stock-based gravy (home-made)
– Fresh orange juice
– Liquid stevia
– Fresh fruit
– Plain Greek yoghurt
– Grainy wholemeal bread
– Steak and salad bar
– Tomato salsa
– Vinegar and oil (vinaigrette) dressings
– Raw nuts
– Clear spirits with soda water or plain mineral water and fresh citrus juice
– Coffee
– Replace with the herb, stevia

2. Use a sugar budget – make mindful choices

If going ‘cold turkey’ (no pun intended) is too challenging, creating a sugar budget can be a useful alternative.

That is – make a decision how much sugar you wish to eat in a day, or at a party, and stick to it. If you work with the WHO recommendation of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, that’s roughly equal to:

– 250mL of tonic water (think gin and tonic)
– A 275mL bottle of ‘alco-pop’ drink
– 200mL of egg nog
– 200mL cranberry juice
– A small slice (50g) of Christmas cake
– 3 rum balls
– 1 slice Christmas pudding
– 3 candy canes
– 2 mini pavlova shells
– ¾ cup custard
– 2 scoops ice cream
– One small fruit mince pie

So at a party, choosing one of the above options and substituting the rest with low-sugar alternatives, will keep you on track.

3. Eat protein (and vegetables) first

sugar christmas_3The word ‘protein’ derives from the Greek ‘prote’, meaning primary.

Sugar on its own – even plain fruit – can set you up for a blood sugar rollercoaster and cravings.

One of the easiest ways to regulate the effect of sugar on your body and reduce your sugar intake is to eat your protein and vegetables first.

The protein (low GI) in the meal (or pre-dinner snack) will regulate your blood sugar and reduce the likelihood of cravings.

In addition, eating a protein-rich food first will increase ‘satiety’ (the feeling of having had enough to eat), and leave less room and less desire for sugary desserts.

4. Find other energy sources

It’s a busy time of year and you can easily get stressed, overwhelmed and tired. This can often trigger the desire for some ‘instant energy’ and sugar is a likely target for many people.

Deal with your energy slumps in other ways, like:

– Take a short nap or rest
– Have a cup of tea or coffee
– Drink a few glasses of water (dehydration can be a cause of fatigue)
– Say no and take time out for yourself, to recharge and revitalise
– Take a short, brisk walk to get the blood flowing
– Spend time doing a ‘flow’ activity – an enjoyable hobby you get lost in – to reinvigorate you.

As you can see, sugar can have a huge effect on health, and Christmas is a danger time for sugar consumption. But with these four strategies, you can easily break up with or reduce sugar and feel trim, energetic and calm!

Connect with Expert Melanie White.

References

– Stanhope , K.L. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy.
Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, September 2015.
– Tryon, M.S., Stanhope, K.L., Epel, E.S., Mason, A.E., Brown, R, Medici, V, Havel, P.J. and Laugero, K.D. (2015). Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2015 100:6, 2239-2247
World Health Organisation Press Release 4 March 2015 (accessed November 2015)

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