Every holiday season, it returns. I can expect it. It becomes more evident than the last that there is an immense struggle within the people that surround me. I hear the same chitter-chatter over the dessert table, at holiday parties, in the work lunch rooms, and in the gym locker room… Excuses as to why one can not say NO! to the piles of processed, white sugar-laden, trans-fat containing “foods.” In reality, they are not food, REAL food that is. So, why are they so tempting and why do our bodies crave them and what the heck can we do to NOT fall into the same holiday trap of overeating these unhealthy “treats” and feeling physically and mentally subpar? Let’s face it…we all fall victim from time to time, however, if armed with the right tools and a positive attitude, even Cookie Monster could get through the holidays without drowning himself in sugar and fat. So, let’s get down and dirty and talk about the nitty-gritty, shall we?
What does white sugar, processed butter, and white flour have it common?
They all wreck havoc on the body! I believe that the majority of us could agree that eating each one of these ingredients separately is not very appealing…actually, it is pretty disgusting. But, when mixed all together with a few other ingredients, a tasty edible object appears that people go crazy for, literally and metaphorically. A smile appears, the eyes shine, the mouth salivates, and the brain and palate start to physically alter to crave more of these objects. They do not nourish the body and they are void of many vital vitamins and minerals. So, if they are void of vital nutrients, why do we crave them so badly?
Easily defined, sugar is a drug that has no nutritional value and is an addictive chemical. White sugar comes as granules or cubes, as well as brown sugar and all the various mixes of glucose, fructose and sucrose, including high fructose corn syrup. But, how does it really affect us?
Sugar increases symptoms of depression by altering your natural serotonin ( a feel-good neurotransmitter) balance, making you rely more on an artificial serotonin high. Sugar raises serotonin levels and make us “feel good” after we eat them. We get a chemical high that lifts our mood. So.. What is the huge problem??? Overtime, the brain decreases serotonin production, which results in slight to serious depression. Just by not having a “sugary” substance, one can experience mood swings, unhappiness, irritability and other negative symptoms. Sugar also makes you stupid. Insulin has ability to pass through your blood-brain barrier, triggering neurological processes that are important for learning and memory. Consuming large amounts of sugar may block insulin’s ability to regulate how your brain cells store and use sugar for the energy needed to fuel thoughts and emotions. Read your food labels and beware of high-fructose corn syrup.
High sugar intake means a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The pancreas produces insulin. Insulin regulates how much sugar is in the body. Too high or too low concentrations of sugar in our blood can kill us. That is why the regulation of insulin is vital. When the body can not properly use or produce insulin, the risk to develop type 2 diabetes increases. Sugar causes our pancreas to overwork in its production of insulin, leading to insulin resistance and other problems, or in other words, it makes us imbalanced.
Sugar is acidic to the body, throwing off our acid-alkaline balance. When the body is too acidic, it becomes a breading ground for diseases and health concerns. Sugar weakens our bones. To rebalance the acid-alkaline body, the body needs an alkaline substance to neutralize the effects of the acidic sugar. Calcium, abundant in our bones, is an alkaline mineral. Osteoporosis can eventually occur due to the bones becoming weak and porous. Osteoporosis has become a bigger issue these days, not because of lack of dairy or calcium supplementation, but because we have become a society of high sugar foods.
Sugar can cause heart disease. Research over the years has shown a very significant link between diabetes and heart disease. Diabetics are at a higher risk for atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Sugar weakens arteries by causing inflammation. When the stressed pancreas is unable to regulate the amount in our blood stream, the arteries now take a toll. Because of the damaged arteries, our bodies then become more susceptible to clogged arteries, hypertension (high blood pressure), weak arteries, strokes and heart attacks. It is not a surprise that high blood pressure is so prevalent in the American society!
Sugar creates a paralyzing effect on the white blood cells. Sugar decreases their ability to work by about 40 % and that can last for approximately 5 hours (You can read more about this from health experts on sugar like Dr. Sears). Cortisol increases. Over time, the stress hormone,cortisol, becomes elevated and causes increases to various infections as well as general organ malfunction, including heart disease.
Excess sugar can be stored as fat. Glucose is our body’s number one fuel or energy source. All sugar gets broken down into glucose, however, our bodies can not utilize all the glucose from a high-sugar diet. Because the body will not “throw away” energy, it gets stored into our fat deposits. Therefore, high-sugar diets can lead to obesity and weight problems. FUN FACT: Thirty teaspoons = over 400 calories daily just in sugar alone in the North American diet!
Sugar has been linked to damages in every system of the body causes further concerns not mentioned! Learning disorders in kids, increases symptoms of ADD/ADHD, higher risk of cancers, damage to the overall circulatory system, eye damage, nerve damage, tooth decay, and digestion difficulties.
What sweet treats or sweeteners should we choose instead? Opt for fruits, dates, raw honey, stevia, and 100% maple syrup in moderation for healthy alternatives. are not talking fruits and dates and raw honey.
Fat has a huge, vital role in basic bodily functions and nourishing the hair, skin, nails, and brain. I actually promote a higher fat diet, however, make sure it is the right fats! Reduce your intake of processed fat by eating less processed and conventional-type butter, cream, milk, and cheese. Instead, opt for organic, grass-fed, raw (unprocessed) butter, ghee, cheese, and milk. Choose other animal fats with the same standards. Select organic, cage-free, grass-fed meats and eggs. Avoid regular safflower and sunflower oils, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, and mixed vegetable oils. Strictly avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated oil, and all products listing them as ingredients.
What fats should we choose instead? Opt for avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, and nuts (raw, unroasted, unsalted preferably), especially walnuts, cashews, almonds, and nut butters made from these nuts. Use raw butters, ghee, and coconut oil as a main cooking oil.
For omega-3 fatty acids, eat salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild or canned sockeye), sardines packed in water or olive oil, herring, and black cod (sablefish, butterfish); omega-3 fortified eggs; hemp seeds and flaxseeds (preferably freshly ground); or take a fish oil supplement (look for products that provide both EPA and DHA, in a convenient daily dosage of two to three grams).
Just Say No!
So we know we should refrain from indulging, but sometimes, temptation becomes overwhelming. Here are some of my favorite tips to put in your arsenal bag for quick draw when you need back up the most!
When we are hungry, our hormones and stress levels will be unbalanced, leaving us open and susceptible to cravings. Have a healthy snack that includes some carbs for the “feel-good” response and some fat and protein to keep your cravings at bay for a prolonged period.
Nothing says “Binging” faster than getting caught hungry with no snacks as a back up plan. Choose fruits, nuts and seeds, trail mix, and protein bars/shakes.
Stress increases our cravings for comfort foods…sugar and fat. Sometimes 3-5 deep, slow, belly breaths will decrease the immediate tension and stress leaving us feel a bit more calm, collected, and level headed. Then walk away…out of sight, out of mind!
People often mistake thirst for hunger. Drink a glass of water and then wait 10-15 minutes to see if you are really hungry or just thirsty. Add some lemon, lime, or drink hot tea for added flavor and health benefits.
Focus on each one of the ingredients entering your body and how they will effect you. Think of the sluggishness, decreased mental clarity, sugar crash, bloating, digestive issues, fatigue and maybe it will not seem so appealing after all.
Allow yourself to be mindful and truly engage in what is going on around you. Take in the conversations, enjoy the cool air on your skin, listen to the holiday music and feel the excitement that it builds inside you. Use your other senses to experience, rather than just your taste buds!
Positivity Breeds Positivity
Positive thinking goes a very long way! When we think positive and focus on a positive outcome, positive things come our way. The opposite is true as well. When we think negatively, we draw negative actions into our lives. If we focus on NOT wanting to overeat and NOT wanting to give into temptation, what is going to happen? We are going to give into temptation and overeat! It is how it works. So, change your mindset and set yourself free! Instead of thinking what you do not want to have happen, choose positive thoughts. For example, INSTEAD OF “I do not want to eat that cookie,” THINK THIS “I am in control of what I eat.”
“The vibrations of mental forces are the finest and consequently the most powerful in existence.” ~ Charles Haanel
Make A Change
Here are two of my favorite desserts. They are raw, or use mostly raw ingredients, and are absolutely delicious, healthy additions to the dessert table!
4 1/2 cups fine cashew flour
3 cups cocoa OR cacao powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup agave
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl. Add remaining ingredients; mix well with hands. Line a 9 x13 inch pan with parchment paper. Press into pan in an even layer. Dehydrate in bottom of dehydrator overnight. Flip onto cutting board and trim edges. Place on screens and dehydrate another 4-6 hours. No dehydrator? No problem.. Try the process on low heat in the oven, but keep it low to maintain the “rawness” of the dessert as much as possible.
(From “Everyday Raw” by Matthew Kenney)
1 1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup dates
2 cups whole oats ( preferably Gluten-free oats)
4 tablespoons raw honey OR agave
2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt ( Celtic or Himalayan are my favorites)
1/2 cups raw cacao nibs OR cocoa nibs
Place raisins and dates into a food processor and chop into small pieces. Add oats, honey or agave, cinnamon, sea salt. Process to mix well. Empty into mixing bowl and add cacao or cocoa nibs. Mix well. Use a tablespoon to measure each cookie. Shape and either chill or serve immediately. Enjoy!
There you have it. A guide and some tips on how to sail through this holiday season. Oh, the dessert table! I will not do it…I will not succumb…that is my holiday gift to myself! What will your holiday gift be to positively impact your physical and mental well-being?
Take this time to make a list or a plan as to how you will keep your holiday eating and meal planning healthy and beneficial to you physically and mentally. Use the tips above to help you out! Plan some healthy recipes to take to your parties and functions.