Navigating A Sugar-Conscious Holiday Season


By Dr. Andrew McGlone
Executive Medical Director
Luminis Health Primary Care and Population Health

The temptation of sugary delights becomes almost irresistible during the holidays. While sugar is an integral part of traditions, it can exact a significant toll on our health when consumed excessively. We see the resulting effect in our medical practices with a 1% to 2% drop in diabetic control each year in January.

If you have a chronic health condition or are working to improve your health, having a strategy to approach the holiday season is key to your success. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are eating and drinking more added sugar than recommended. Excess added sugar in our diet increases the risk for weight gain, diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers.

As we enter a sugar-conscious holiday season, moderation can pave the way for celebration of joy and tradition, with enhanced wellbeing. Here are some recommendations:

1. Mindful Drink Choices: Sugar-sweetened beverages are the top source of added sugar for the U.S. population - this is a great place to cut back. While water is always the best choice, many sugar-free and low-sugar beverages are available. Plus, it's easy for our bodies to confuse thirst with hunger, which can lead to overeating. Amidst the array of cocktails, sodas and sweetened drinks this season, try a glass of sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice or a squeeze of lemon.

2. Creative Substitutes: Reduce the amount of sugar in your desserts by replacing it with natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup or dates. These alternatives introduce sweetness and distinct flavors to your sweet dishes. Experiment by sautéing apples with cinnamon and honey for a healthy take on a seasonal treat.

Colleen Kiley, lead diabetes educator at Luminis Health, noted that when baking, “You can lower the sugar amount in any recipe by 25% without a noticeable taste change. For example, you can reduce one cup of sugar to three-fourths cup.”

3. Cinnamon in Coffee: To infuse your morning coffee with a festive essence, consider adding a pinch of cinnamon instead of traditional sweeteners. When you swing by your favorite coffee shop, request less syrup, skip toppings like whipped cream, and always get the smaller size.

4. Adding Fruit: Include fruit in baked goods and drinks when appropriate to add natural sweetener and increase nutritional value. For example, when crafting cocktails and mocktails, try using muddled fruit or seltzers rather than sugary mixers and syrups.

5. Thoughtful Gift-Giving: Be a conscientious gift-giver, especially if you are known for your holiday treats. Consider reducing the portions you generously give out to friends, family and coworkers. Smaller portions can help others savor the flavors while being mindful of their health.

Another option is to get creative with gifts. For example, consider sharing festive cheer with candles, potted plants, or seasonal fruits like figs, pomegranates and clementines. It's a thoughtful gesture that embodies the joy of giving with the consideration of wellbeing.

Don't forget to prioritize exercise and movement. Planning activities with family and friends is a great way to maintain your health and spend time together. Create new holiday traditions, such as a family walk, or sign up for seasonal events like a turkey trot or other organized activities to stay active this season.

Holidays are a time of indulgence, but they don’t have to mean sacrificing your health. By making these mindful swaps and taking a balanced approach, you can embrace the season without compromising your wellbeing.


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