Hey, sugar, whatcha doin’ for the holidays?!

So it’s almost the end of the year, and we all deserve a break, right? From thanksgiving until early January, it’s a blitz of eating and drinking. Everywhere we turn there are home-made cookies, cake, breads, candies and desserts. We may try to resist, but it’s like keeping up with the weeds in our gardens – by late July or early August, they’re getting the better of us, and we learn to live with them.

The problem, of course, is that living with decadent desserts, alcohol-based drinks, sweet punches, soda and holiday beverages comes with a cost – to our waistlines, to our bodies’ ability to process sugar, and to our overall health.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to our health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and tissues. It’s also our brain’s main source of fuel.

Insulin is a hormone that comes from a gland situated behind and below the stomach (pancreas).The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which circulates, enabling sugar to enter our cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in our bloodstream — as our blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from our pancreas.

If we have diabetes, no matter what type, it means we have too much glucose in our blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and our pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into our cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in our bloodstream.

Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it’s believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Here are just a few of the recent statistics on diabetes:

  • Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes.
  • Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion.

Nutritional tips for a healthier holiday season

Try these tips this holiday season. They can help us manage our sweet tooth when dessert and other foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt are served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure.
  • Eat a healthy snack early to avoid overeating at the party.
  • Bring a nutritious snack or your own healthy dessert such as plain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Watch out for heavy holiday favorites such as hams with a honey glaze, turkey swimming in gravy and side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese, or mayonnaise. Instead, choose skinless turkey without gravy, or other lean meats.
  • Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and dressing, and other extra fats and sugars such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
  • If there is someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat, buddy up! Avoid tempting sweets and ask your fellow conscious eater to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount, and have it with food.

Additionally, there are ways to revise dessert recipes so they are healthier and still tasty. Often, we can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute. We can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings. Another trick is to replace half of the fat in a recipe with applesauce or baby-food prunes when making chocolate brownies, cakes, or cookies.

Many traditional Thanksgiving and holiday foods are high in carbohydrates. Don’t feel like you have to sample everything on the table. Have a reasonable portion of your favorites and pass on the rest. For example, if stuffing is your favorite, pass on rolls. Choose either sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes. If you really want to try everything, make your portions smaller.

When cooking, casseroles taste just as good with fat-free or light sour cream and fat-free dairy products. We can steam green beans or other veggies instead of sautéing them in butter. When going to a party, offer to bring a green salad or a side of steamed vegetables that have been seasoned. Non-starchy veggies are low in carbs and calories. They will help fill you up and keep you from over-eating other high-calorie and high-fat foods on the table.

We don’t have to give up all of our holiday favorites if we make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. At a party or holiday gathering, follow these tips to avoid overeating and to choose healthy foods.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!