Anyone still have Halloween candy in their house? We do! While we’re working through that, store shelves are being loaded with holiday treats - Toblerone, Lindt chocolate, red & green peanut M&Ms (just to name my top 3;).
Doesn’t it seem like sugar is everywhere? That’s because it is. Before the popularity of packaged foods, people ate mostly whole, fresh foods, and only consumed about 15g of sugar per day. Now, the average North American consumes at least 70g of sugar per day (1,3)! One of the reasons for this is that sugar is hiding in everything like ketchup, canned soup, salad dressing and flavoured yogurt. And no, “sugar-free” foods with aspartame are not better (that’s a post for another time).
We all know that including excess sugar in our diets is not the best choice for good overall health, but sometimes knowing why can motivate us to cut back:
Sugar is addictive
When we eat refined, added sugar (ie. glucose, fructose, sucrose etc.), it gives us a quick hit of energy and releases feel good hormones in our brain like dopamine and serotonin. We feel great, but not for long. Soon after eating sugar, we experience a dip in energy and mood, and reach for another sweet snack to give us that boost again. It’s a vicious cycle that always has us craving the sweet stuff.
Excess sugar can cause belly fat
Eating sugar causes our pancreas to secrete insulin to help stabilize blood sugar levels. This process works fine if you eat a reasonable amount of sugar. However, when you eat too much, insulin signals the liver to help out. The liver converts the sugar into glycogen, and stores it away for later when we need energy. Unfortunately, our body can’t possibly burn all that glycogen (unless you’re running a marathon), and it gets stored as fat that likes to gather around our mid-section.
Diets high in sugar are linked to depression and diabetes.
Too much sugar in our diets can also lead to symptoms of depression. Research has shown that a high concentration of fructose (a form of sugar found in many packaged foods 2) may reduce tryptophan - an amino acid which creates the feel good hormone serotonin; connecting high fructose diets and symptoms of depression (3,4). High sugar diets can also lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes - a totally preventable condition where our cells no longer respond to insulin secretion, and blood sugar levels are no longer controlled for us.
The good news is that there are ways to enjoy sweet foods in a healthy way:
Keep your added sugar intake to a reasonable amount - no more than 25g per day. Tip: choose one time during the day to have a sweet treat.
Choose natural sources of sugar first. When you pair sugar with fibre, like in fresh fruit or dried fruits like dates or apricots, the fibre slows the release of sugar into our bloodstream so the vicious spike and crash cycle isn’t so extreme. I love having a date or two with a couple squares of dark chocolate (aim for 70% or higher).
Make healthy homemade treats using small amounts of natural sugar (I like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or monkfruit) and nutrient-rich ingredients like cocoa and coconut oil. Cacao contains antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals and prevent disease. It’s also a source of zinc, magnesium and iron. Coconut oil is a saturated fat rich in lauric acid, which means it is used an energy quickly by the body instead of stored as fat.
This holiday season, avoid the packaged sweets and snacks, and make your own healthy treats!
No Bake Chocolate Truffles
10-14 Medjool dates or dried apricots (or a combination of both!), soaked
¾ cup walnuts
¾ - 1 cup almond flour
1 tsp. Cinnamon
⅓ cup cocoa powder (I like Yupik brand)
1 tsp. Vanilla, almond or peppermint extract
1 tbsp. Honey
1 tsp. Coconut oil, melted
About ¼ cup shredded coconut and cocoa powder for rolling
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove pits from dates and soak the dates or apricots for 20 minutes in hot water. Drain extra water and discard water once finished.
2. In a food processor, pulse dates or apricots, walnuts, almond flour, cinnamon, cacao powder and vanilla until mixture is crumbly. Add the honey, coconut oil, and extract flavour of choice. Process again until a sticky dough is created.
3. Using a cookie scoop, or your hands, form the dough into 1.5 inch balls and roll in coconut flakes or raw cacao powder (or combo of both!) and place on the baking sheet; continue with remaining dough.
4. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or place directly in the freezer. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or for 3 months in the freezer (if they last that long ;)
Recipe adapted from “School Year Survival Cookbook” by Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh and Joyous Health.
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ. Giulia Enders. April 10, 2015. Greystone Books Ltd.