Whether it’s candy canes, chocolate treats or gingerbread houses, Christmastime and sugar are practically inseparable. Heck, even Santa Claus gets in on the sugary action with cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. At holiday parties and family meals, it seems like everyone brings their own personal favorite sweet recipe to share, so it can seem like there’s sugar at just about every turn this time of year. If you happen to have diabetes or are just watching your sugar intake to help with weight loss, this can, of course, be a challenge.
“Holiday meals and holiday parties actually can be a time of stress for many of my patients,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman. “I think food is meant to be enjoyable and those special holiday treats should be savored, so I encourage my patients to enjoy themselves at the holidays, but to also be mindful of their fullness cues and focus on the togetherness more than the food and overeating. And, while I believe holiday parties and events can certainly be opportunities for overindulging, what many of us don’t realize is that what we do daily usually has a much bigger impact on our overall health than a few overindulgent holiday meals,” she explained.
“For instance, the average American consumes far more than the recommended six teaspoons of sugar each day for women and nine teaspoons of sugar each day for men,” Tillman continued. “We know that diets high in sugar increase our risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And, practically speaking, high-sugar diets raise blood sugar and insulin levels and increase our appetites, causing an increased desire for more high sugar foods,” she said. “So, as the holiday season goes full-force this week, it’s important to consider some low-sugar replacements for not just your Christmas treats, but also your day-in, day-out meals,” she added.
Tillman says breakfast is as good a place as any to start. “Breakfast is a meal where sugar can accumulate quickly without you knowing it,” Tillman said. “For instance, the average blueberry muffin contains 33 grams of sugar and a mocha Frappuccino can contain up to 61 grams of sugar, which comes out to about 23 teaspoons of sugar just in that tiny breakfast. Instead of those items, consider coffee with cream, which contains about one gram of sugar, paired with bacon and gruyere egg bites, for a total of less than one teaspoon of sugar,” she said.
“Snacks, too, are perilous when it comes to sugar,” Tillman continued. “Instead of a 20-ounce soda and a candy bar, which when combined can contain as much as 24 teaspoons of sugar, swap in an unsweetened green tea, some almonds and sugar-free dark chocolate chips, which altogether equal less than a half-teaspoon of sugar,” she explained.
And what about those happy hour excursions with friends? Tillman says there’s a low-sugar swap for that, too. “If you’re having a margarita and chips at happy hour, you’re getting around 24 teaspoons of sugar, almost exclusively from the margarita,” Tillman said. “Swap that for a glass of red wine and some cheese ‘Whisp’ crackers and you can get your happy hour sugar intake down to about a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar,” she said.
“Again, the goal is to enjoy the holidays with friends and family as much as possible without overdoing it on sugar,” Tillman said. “It’s also important, however, to remember to look for ways to keep our day-to-day sugar intake under control, as well.”