Sugar and the Holidays: Tricks to Curb Your Sweet Tooth

By: Kristin McQuivey

| November 10, 2021

Just like that, it’s officially holiday season again. Along with all the extra fun comes a lot of extra calories, too. That’s especially problematic when a lot of those calories come from a popular holiday accompaniment: SUGAR.

Let’s look at some less-than-fun facts about holiday sugar consumption. Did you know…

Unfortunately, it’s not just during the holidays that we typically consume too much sugar. All too often our sugar high lasts all year. 

How much sugar do we eat?

The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. A 1-3 year old consumes about 12 teaspoons a day, and the average 4 to 8 year old consumes 21 teaspoons every day. Those amounts far exceed recommended guidelines for optimal health. And, sadly, these totals reflect averages from 365 days a year–not just during the holiday season!

How much sugar should we be eating?

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume 6 teaspoons of sugar, or less, per day, while men are encouraged to keep sugar consumption to less than 9 teaspoons a day. For children, the recommended amount is even less, with the guideline being a maximum of 4 teaspoons per day. 

Sugar and the Holidays–Why does it matter?

It’s common knowledge that too much sugar is bad for you. We know that sugar is a massive contributor to the obesity epidemic in America. But beyond weight gain, sugar causes all sorts of frightening health problems. 

The American Dietary Association advises that we consume less than 10% of our daily calories from sugar. Most of us definitely exceed that amount, sometimes even getting a full 25% of our daily calories from added sugar. Studies prove that “people who get 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar.” 

Sugar is an anti-nutrient

Sugars contribute zero nutrients while contributing high numbers to our caloric intake. In fact, sugar is actually an ‘anti-nutrient.’ An anti-nutrient is any “food” that requires more nutrients for the body to use it than the food itself supplies. That means that each time we eat sugar, not only does it not contribute any nutritional value, it actually leaches nutrients from our body. Sugar robs your body of what it needs to function and perform at its best. 

Sugar makes us sick

Did you know that your body makes 2,000 immune cells every minute?  In order to do that, it needs proper nutrition to fuel this important activity. The better our nutrition, the better we’re able to make those immune cells. When we consume sugar, it depletes our body’s ability to protect itself because it compromises our ability to produce the cells needed to do so. 

When our immune system is weak, the chance of our body becoming a host to inflammation is greatly increased. Inflammation means pain and illness and can lead to chronic problems. Evidence continues to grow that in addition to weight gain, sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, increased chance of stroke, cancer production (along with decreased cancer survival), and dementia, as well as chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.

As quoted in the book Limitless by Jim Kwik, Dr. Eva Selhub reminds us of an important reason to reduce sugar consumption. “Refined sugar, for example, contributes to impaired brain function, leads to inflammation, and can even cause depression (something you might want to consider the next time you reach for a tub of ice cream to contend with a tough day).”

So, even if you’re not too worried about putting on an extra few pounds over the holidays (what are New Year’s resolutions for, after all?) the other side effects of sugar should help scare us into putting down the sugar cookie!

How do we fight the sugar addiction?

I am a recovering self-professed sugar addict. I’m well aware–from years of personal experience–that sugar hits us right in the pleasure center of the brain. I know how those cravings can lead to a loss of control, and I’m too familiar with the first-hand effects of a self-induced sugar coma. I know better, and I really do want to do better! So what can even we sugar addicts do– especially at the onset of the sugary holiday season– to cut down on sugar consumption?

Tips to cut down added sugar:

Read (and understand!) labels.

Food labels are remarkably misleading. With current U.S. FDA regulations, food companies are able to effectively hide added sugars. The sugar content listed on a food label just refers to added sugar. 

To figure out actual sugar amounts in a food, look at the total carbohydrates. Subtract the amount of fiber listed from the total number of carbohydrates. That leaves you with the actual grams of sugar per serving. 

Because we don’t know how much a gram of sugar is, use the following formula to figure out how many teaspoons of sugar that equals: Divide the total carbohydrates (minus the fiber) by 4. The number you get is the actual amount of sugar in teaspoons. You might be shocked how much sugar is actually in foods that aren’t even a little bit sweet– like crackers. 

Review ingredients.

You can also review the list of ingredients. Added sugar can be listed under a variety of pseudonyms, including glucose, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, dextrose, and anything else that ends in -ose, to name a few. 

Most processed foods are loaded with added sugars, even if they aren’t particularly sweet. Crackers, pasta sauces, salad dressings, bread, rice, and ketchup typically have a surprising amount of added sugar.

Load up on fruits and fiber instead.

When you’re having a craving for something sweet, grab a piece of fruit. Although fruit does have simple sugars, it’s a good source of fiber. This type of sugar absorbs into our digestive system more slowly and does not cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Those spikes and subsequent sugar lows often leave us craving even more sugar. (Be careful, though, because even though fruit is a healthier source of sugar, it should still be consumed in moderation.) 

Fiber also makes us feel full, faster. 

Stay away from artificial sweeteners.

This one is especially hard for me, as I love my diet soda. But the hard truth is that research shows that artificial sweeteners are more harmful than we realize. Typically, artificial sweeteners are even sweeter than sugar, some up to 600 times sweeter! This distorts our palate and leaves us craving even sweeter tastes. Some call this phenomenon “supercharged cravings.”

In addition, many artificial sweeteners still cause spikes in glucose, which leave us in a vicious sugar-craving cycle.

Eat flavorful food.

Please your palate with the myriad of other flavors available besides the sweet. If we make an effort to eat highly flavorful healthy food, the craving for sweet is less intense. Many of the spices and herbs we can use aren’t just tasty, they even contain antioxidants, nutrients, and vitamins. Try recipes that use cinnamon, coriander, vinegar, cloves, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla bean or extract, and citrus zest.

My good friend Carla Meine has compiled an amazing collection of healthy recipes that are healthy, surprisingly delicious, and, gratefully, easy to make. Check out her recipe for Sweet Potato Pie. You’re not missing out on any flavor with this cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg-infused deliciousness. You might be shocked to discover that what is missing is gluten and sugar. With a recipe this good, your taste buds won’t miss a thing! 

Another healthy and delectable winner is her recipe for Triple Berry Pie. Carla developed this recipe for her husband, David, who avoids all sugar and gluten. But the rest of her family loves and requests this pie as well, not even realizing they’re eating a healthy dessert! 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound not gained

Ok, so I twisted the idiom a bit, but when it comes to sugar and the holidays, it’s true! If we can find effective ways to curb our sugar cravings, not only can we prevent gaining those extra pounds, we can also prevent a whole host of truly troublesome health problems. 

For more helpful information regarding the truth about the connection between sugar and our long-term health, read David and Carla Meine’s best-selling book, Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code, available now.