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Enjoy Your Sweets without Harming Your Health

Eating special foods, especially your favorite sugary treats and drinks, are part of celebrating the holidays. When you eat too much refined sugar, your insulin and blood sugar levels rise. If you make eating sugar a daily habit, you may develop insulin resistance: More and more insulin is necessary to fuel your cells and maintain normal blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels contribute to chronic inflammation, which is the underlying cause of most diseases.

Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, reports that today we consume about 20 times more sugar than our ancestors did. It has become a diet staple not a treat. In one clinical trial, test subjects who consumed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) developed higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease in just two weeks. HFCS is now found in most processed foods.

Did you know there are things you can do to minimize the damage sugar does to your body when you eat it? According to Isabel Smith, MS, registered dietitian and wellness expert, you can balance blood sugar levels with the following nutrients and behaviors:

·         Eat chromium rich foods to balance blood sugar. (broccoli, potatoes, green beans, bananas, nuts, lean meat, mushrooms and whole grains)

·         Do moderate exercise before and/or after eating sugar; it removes sugar from the blood stream and promotes weight maintenance. New research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that one session of moderate exercise can improve the way your body regulates glucose.

·         Eat healthy fats; they slow digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. (saturated fats in butter, dairy, and meat; and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in olive and coconut oil)

·         Eat protein; it slows digestion and promotes satiety. (lean meats, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds, beans, vegetables, low-fat dairy)

·         Eat fiber; it is similar to fats and proteins and reduces blood sugar spikes and may promote weight loss. (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains)

·         Eat cinnamon; it plays a role in balancing blood sugar.

Here are a few of my personal tips for managing your blood sugar levels:

 

Eat foods based on their Glycemic Index rating: Choose more foods and beverages with a low-GI and minimize high-GI options. A high GI food is digested rapidly and causes spikes and drops in blood sugar: most bread products, white rice, cereals, candy, ketchup, potatoes, watermelon and soda. A low-GI food is digested slowly and produces a more gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels: apples, legumes, broccoli, blueberries, oat bran, peppers, raspberries, mushrooms, and tomatoes. For a GI index chart, go to http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

Avoid processed treats made with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives: Bake or buy freshly baked goods instead of packaged desserts. Check the sugar source and amount in candy, baked goods and beverages. Use sugars as close to their natural state as possible if you are baking. You might even try reducing the amount of sugar in your recipes.

Make wise sugar choices: 1) If you are having great desserts that you want to enjoy, prepare a main course with foods that have a low or moderate Glycemic Index rating; 2) Monitor your portion size; 3) Avoid having sugary drinks with your meal, drinking water instead. According to a statement from the American Heart Association, sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars in the American diet.

The holidays would not be the same if we did not over-indulge with foods that give us pleasure. The ones that bring back childhood memories make me salivate and put a smile on my face. (I can’t wait to eat a gingerbread cookie.) Enjoy your “pleasure” foods this holiday season and make mindful choices about sugar. In the New Year, you might even decide to make sugar a treat, not a staple in your diet. Choosing healthier sweeteners will make a difference too. 



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