Managing sugar overload this festive season
The festive time of year is synonymous with mountains of food.
And often, mountains of sugar.
While a little added sugar is okay, it is easy to go overboard!
Here are a few ways to manage the intake of added sugar and support your overall health, in order to avoid the post-festivity crash that so often accompanies these celebratory, yet typically busy, times.
Don’t drink sugar
Whether on it’s own or as an alcoholic mixer, sugar-sweetened beverages provide a quick hit of free, added sugar to the body, but no nutritional value.
Instead, choose plain, soda, or sparkling water. If you wish, infuse it with slices of fresh fruit and herbs. If drinking alcohol, low or no sugar options include dry wine or white spirits.
As with added sugar, too much alcohol can be damaging to health, so consume wisely and responsibly.
Be prepared with healthy options
If you anticipate a sugar-feast at an upcoming event, have a few whole food snacks prior. By filling the belly with nourishing foods, you are unlikely to overdo the not-so-healthy offerings.
Think a handful of plain nuts and seeds, some hummus and carrot sticks, or a hard-boiled egg.
If you are contributing to a shared feast, take a no added sugar, real food dish so you and other guests can partake in a deliciously wholesome option. A rolled turkey breast with hazelnut and sage stuffing, oven roasted tomato and chickpea or fennel and citrus salad, or festive nut loaf would do the trick!
Fill your plate with whole foods
Whether eating at home or an event, opt for loads of veggies. Fill half your plate with these plant foods – they are brimming with health-supportive nutrients.
Then, choose mostly whole or minimally processed foods that provide fibre, quality protein, or healthy fats. This will stabilize blood glucose levels, sustain energy, and keep you fuller for longer (so you will be less likely to fill up later on too much sweet stuff). Think nuts, eggs, salads, or roast veg with meat, fish or legumes, olives, fruit, and cheese.
Additionally, having a good breakfast is especially important to keep you powering on and resist the endless offerings of Christmas-themed sweets! (Try these quick brekkie ideas.)
Having something sweet? Choose well
If you wish to partake in the sweet stuff on offer around the festive season, enjoy a little and choose good quality over the cheap and nasty. A piece of homemade cake or dark chocolate will satisfy far sooner than the stuff out of a box of Cadbury Favourites.
Say thanks, but no thanks (politely)
We have all been there. Someone is insisting on dishing you another helping of pudding, but you are sugared up!
In situations such as these, politely say thank you, but no. Let them know that you are satisfied and – though it was delicous – you do not need another serving.
Slow down to connect and eat mindfully
For any number of reasons, this time of year can be frantic and stressful. To find more enjoyment, it could be a good opportunity to practice slowing down.
Slowing down during the festive season sounds counterintuitive! But you needn’t do much to have a noticeable impact – regularly pausing for five minutes can make a difference.
For example, taking several deep, diaphragmatic breaths has been shown to be a great way to calm the nervous system, slowing the racing mind and tempering feelings of overwhelm.
By practicing slowing down – even a little – you may find benefit in myriad ways, such as:
- Eating mindfully, which can result in improved digestion and curb overeating. You can practice mindful eating by chewing food properly, not eating when distracted (e.g. in front of screens), and putting down the cutlery between each mouthful. This also gives your body a chance to tell you when it is satisfied.
- Feeling less stressed. Cultivating a sense of calm may mean reducing the need to reach for, and overeat, high sugar ‘comfort’ foods (to then collapse into a food coma and promptly reach for another sugary ‘pick-me-up‘!)
- Finding yourself connecting and appreciating the company of others more, cultivating connection by actively listening and being present when in conversation.
Sustain energy with self-care
Avoid Christmas burnout and maintain self-care by making nourishing choices between the festivities. This is equally important as the choices you make at the events themselves.
Consider practicing the following:
- Eating well
- Getting good quality sleep
- Moving your body daily
- Seek out supportive social connections
- Spending time outdoors.
Each of these factors can affect another, impacting your overall mental and physical wellbeing. They also influence how likely you are to turn to sugary foods for comfort or a pick-me-up.
Be kind to yourself
It is important to understand your own limits and balance when it comes to choosing what you do in busy times, including what to eat. If you go overboard on the sweet stuff, don’t go down the road of guilt and beat yourself up. Your health can survive an unhealthy meal! Enjoy it for what it was, and know that the next meal, whenever that may be, can be full of healthy, nourishing, no added sugar whole foods!
If you find you have gone overboard on the sweet stuff, check out our tips for getting past the sugar hangover.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut Med)