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Tuesday
Dec172013

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere!

‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings and gift giving, and all the sugar and heavy foods are making me feel just plain yucky.  Do you feel it, too?

I KNOW the dental and physical harms of too much sugar in our diets, and yet here I am again this year, in the kitchen baking.  I baked 5 dozen cookies to take to my daughter’s school last week, baked a few more this weekend for teacher gifts, and still have 2 cakes to bake for family gatherings.  Ah, what’s a good dentist to do?!? 

I don’t have to tell you that the evidence is piling in that we Americans eat far too much sugar, and consequently we are growing heavier and more unhealthy.   We are also hearing more about the dangers of the sugar we consume not only in sweet drinks, desserts and treats, but also from hidden sources such as spaghetti sauce, crackers, and salad dressings. 

From the dental perspective, we know that the bacteria responsible for tooth decay thrive on the sugars that pass through our mouths and stick to our teeth in the form of dental plaque.

So how do we handle the onslaught of sweets during the holiday season?  Here are just a few tips I’ve learned through the years.

A little bit goes a long way.  Unless you’re a diabetic or on a special diet, you don’t have to feel guilty for an occasional indulgence.  They’re best enjoyed at the end of a meal and in small bites.  When my husband and I are eating together and there are multiple desserts on a buffet, we will make up a small plate of tiny servings and each sample a bite of all the offerings. 

Avoid sweet drinks, especially between meals.  I’m a big fan of water; it’s inexpensive, readily available, and hard to get too much of.  Herbal teas are my second favorite.  (I found Candy Cane Lane tea at Target this week, OMG it’s my all time favorite, and harder to find than hen’s teeth!  Sorry Chattanogans, but I bought the last two boxes.)   If you must sweeten your tea or coffee, use xylitol packets (they’re expensive and hard to find, but worth it).   Stevia, honey, and maple syrup are all more natural options than refined sugar or sugar substitutes that may be somewhat better for your health if you must drink sweet drinks.  The whole issue of sugar substitutes is a “whole ‘nother topic” for a separate blog post. 

Pick your poison.  When eating sweets, I choose dark chocolate with nuts, and fruit-based over ones made from milk chocolate or nougat.  I also choose homemade sweets over ones that look like they’ve come in a package from a store. 

Clean your mouth after meals and snacks.  If you can’t get to a toothbrush, then swish your mouth with water and/or chew some sugar-free gum (preferably xylitol-sweetened like Mentos PURE).

Out of sight, out of mind.  Graciously accept the wonderful sweet treats given to you by well-intentioned friends and family, but put them on a shelf in the cupboard rather than out on the counter top.  That way you won’t be tempted to sneak a snack. 

It’s better to waste the food than to waste your body.  Don’t hesitate to throw out sweets you won’t eat or don’t like, or in excess of what you and your family should consume.  Or drop them by your community’s homeless shelter to supplement their meals.

Add in AT LEAST one dark, leafy green per day.  This one comes from my friend Jenni Lee at Greenlight Health Coaching.  Collards, kale, and spinach can be eaten raw as in a salad or can be easily added into soups and stews.  Enzo’s, just down the street from my office, makes a fabulous kale salad that I often crave.  And here’s a simple recipe for a great looking collard green salad. 

Grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts to satisfy your craving.  A sugar craving indicates you have been eating too many refined sugars and carbs.  Clementines, apples, and bananas are easy to grab and go and are surprisingly satisfying.  Nuts and nut butters are also healthy options for between meal snacks.  Almond butter spread on apple slices satisfies my sweet tooth far better than most syrupy sweet dessert offerings. 

Consider recipes using natural products for sweetening.   There are so many whole and nutritious food bloggers out there on the internet.  Check out this great recipe a friend shared with me for delicious and healthy “raw” brownies using medjool dates instead of refined sugar.

Bake only what you need as you need it.  At home, I refrigerate my cookie dough and pop a few in the oven to bake as we are eating dinner.  You can even bake cakes in small loaves.  This helps you serve small slices of cake and freeze the extra loaves that you don’t need immediately. 

Bake with love from scratch using fresh ingredients.  Store-bought packaged sweets and boxed mixes are full of all kinds of preservatives and ingredients I can’t pronounce.  When you bake, bake from scratch using fresh ingredients.  

Experiment with your recipes.  While I've never tried baking with Stevia, I have learned through the years that I can reduce the sugar content by as much as half in several of my family's favorite recipes with little effect on our enjoyment of them.

Get fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.  All of these help clear your head and lighten your mood.  Physical exercise strengthens your muscles and your heart as well as improves your metabolism and helps you burn off excess calories.  Try to get in a workout before a holiday feast, or talk a walk with a friend afterwards - rather than a nap!   

Learn from your mistakes.  When you do give in to temptation and overindulge, pay attention to the way it makes you feel afterward.  Do you feel sluggish and heavy, and are you left with a bad taste in your mouth? Was the transient sugar high worth the longer-lasting side effects?  The next time you are tempted, you will be less likely to fall victim to sugar’s allure.

Here's my family's favorite cookie recipe.  They are so indulgent that I only bake them at Christmas.  I have a bowl of dough sitting in my fridge right now, but I'm not sure when I will bake them because we have so many sweets coming into the house at the moment!

Holiday blessings to you and your family this holiday season.

 

 

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