Tis the season for sugar creeping up everywhere. What I love about this time of year is that it’s truly the season of giving — everyone tends to be a little bit more jolly and generous. But it can also lead to overindulging and making less-than-healthy food choices that can impact our health.
Too much sugar can not only impact our physique, but it can also have a negative impact on our blood sugar, energy, mood, and gut health. To make matters even worse, sugar can cause you to have more cravings, which can turn this into an endless cycle.
Most of us know that cookies and other common holiday treats are high in sugar. During this time of year, I encourage my clients to eat their favorite holiday indulgences and enjoy that choice, but be conscious to not get stuck in sweets and still aim for healthy-eating choices the majority of the time.
However, sugar can be found in other places that we might not as easily recognize, and when added to the goodies we’re already consuming, can easily lead to overconsumption. Check out these five unexpected places to be on the lookout for sugar in so you can plan how to enjoy the season without risking the health effects of too much sugar.
My team knows that my love language is coffee, so coffee runs and bringing in coffee to share is a regular occurrence at my workplace. This time of year, the coffee shops love taking advantage of all the nostalgia and emotions that come with the season and often launch some really amazingly tasty limited-time drinks. However, most of these drinks contain more sugar than the daily recommended dose — and many contain so much it’s no different than chugging a can of soda.
Pro tip: When it comes to coffee, stick with basic add-ins or consider bringing your own. I’m a big fan of some of the minimally-sweetened almond milk creamers on the market, but also enjoy a coffee with a little heavy cream. Although it is artificial, you could go for a little sugar-free shot of flavor if you really want to add some sweetness. Or, try using a healthy seasonal extra, such as peppermint extract or cinnamon.
“Does wine actually contain sugar?!” This is a common question I get from clients — and one they’re often surprised by the answer of. The answer is yes: Wine does contain some sugar, and alcohol can absolutely interfere with any weight-loss efforts. This is a time of year when it can add up quickly, as there are often more celebrations, and because of the early onset of darkness, it becomes easier to hibernate on the couch and simply sip a glass or two.
Pro tip: Pick your indulgences wisely, and on those occasions, give yourself a limit. If you want to linger with a drink in hand, opt for a sparkling soda water with lime. If you prefer cocktails, choose calorie-free mixers. All alcohol counts, so sip slowly and consume water in between drinks.
Food tends to be a universally appealing gift. It’s easy and something many of us value. Whether it’s a hostess gift, stocking stuffer, or Secret Santa present, there are a ton of opportunities to be given food as a present — and often they tend to be sweeter treats, not a bunch of veggies. Although it’s OK to enjoy some sugar-containing foods this time of year, try to assess the frequency of their availability (likely higher than normal) and ration the ones that will be the most meaningful.
Pro tip: It might not be easy, but try to gift non-food items. If you’re given food (and it’s not something that will promote your health) regift, donate, toss, or trial and share. One of the coaches on my team said her mother used to give a piece of exotic fruit in place of candy in her stocking growing up — try to be creative and think outside the box.
The Work Break Room
Navigating away from temptations at work is a common topic I work through with my clients when we’re identifying healthy-eating strategies. During this time of year especially, everyone seems to be bringing in treats to share. One thing I remind my clients of to help reframe their mindset is that often people are bringing food they’ve been gifted and want to get rid of so they don’t eat it. You don’t have to feel any guilt or obligation to consume what’s been brought it.
Pro tip: Snap a picture of it. We’ve seen this tactic work with some of our 60day Challenge participants: Challengers snap a picture of the food and share it with their group so others can help motivate and support them so they don’t feel alone with their healthy-eating habits.
Keeping a tub of protein powder at your desk for a quick shake (when cravings hit) can also be a great tactic. You can also practice saying “No thank you,” and always have the choice to toss anything that’s been personally gifted to you but you don’t want to consume.
Gingerbread protein bars, candy canes, dark chocolate granola bars, pumpkin-spice cereal — food companies do a great job of capitalizing on the season to create limited-edition options. Although many of these processed starches are now being marketed as containing no artificial ingredients, it doesn’t mean they are healthy. In fact, they’re often the biggest offenders of adding additional sugar.
Pro tip: Check the label and look for less than 5 grams of sugar per serving (and only eat one serving). Even better, make your own seasonal foods so you can control the added ingredients. One of my favorite things to make to snack on is my own granola bars (see recipe below).
Overall, just know that higher sugar intake is likely for most people this time of year. Choose mindfully, aim for balance, and where you can, make your own healthier versions of seasonal goodies.
Granola Bars Three Ways
Makes six servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes, including 30 minutes refrigeration time
For the granola bars:
- 2 cups raw, certified gluten-free oats
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 1/4 cups coconut oil
- 1 cup dates, pitted and soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes
For flavor options:
- Cranberry pecan: 1/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 cup pecans
- Blueberry muffin: 1/4 cup dried blueberries, 2 tsp. lemon zest
- Coconut lime: 1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut flakes, 2 tsp. lime zest
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine oats, cinnamon, and flavor options if desired.
- In the base of a blender, combine remaining ingredients and pulse until well combined. Add to oat mixture.
- In an 8×8 baking dish that has been greased with coconut oil, pat out ingredients and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm.
- Cut into 6 equal-sized rectangular pieces.
Nutritional Info: Calories: 230 grams | Sugar: 6 grams | Fat: 16 grams | Carbs: 18 grams | Fiber: 4 grams | Protein: 5 grams
(Nutrition information does not include added flavor options.)