By Marita Schauch, ND
Sugar is highly addictive. Indulging in sugar triggers the release of dopamine in the same area of the brain as heroin and cocaine. When you consume sugar regularly, you develop a tolerance for it, so you need to consume higher and higher levels of sugar to experience the same “rush.”
It is essential to stay focused on healthy eating, and to be mindful of the dangers of too much sugar, as well as creating ways to eliminate sugar eating when stressed and replacing with healthy eating habits. Whether you choose to try being sugar free or prefer a more balanced approach, you don’t have to skip any of the fun with these tips in mind.
Set a Good Foundation
The key to enjoying being at home is to lay a foundation that sets you and your family up for good health and empowers you to be able to choose to indulge in moderation, knowing you’ve got the basics of your healthy life laid down solidly. These little efforts go a long way.
- Stay hydrated and get lots of rest – Hydration is particularly important on hot and sunny days. Dehydration and tiredness can also amplify and be mistaken for sugar cravings, so make sure you and your family keep up with their fluids and sleep schedules to allow for maximum playtime enjoyment.
- Eat regular meals – Keeping your blood sugar levels stable makes it easier to resist overindulgence when your blood sugar is low or in a crash.
- Keep your breakfast routine – It’s a great idea to maintain your usual breakfast routine so that you are off to a healthy start for the day.
- Make sure to eat plenty of healthy fat and protein – I recommend eating protein with every meal, as this will help you feel satisfied and help regulate your blood sugar. Healthy fats will help keep your blood sugar levels more stable as well. Some of my favourite sources of healthy fats are nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
- Sugar consumption and stress – Studies have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in bad fat, sugar, or both which may be due to the increase in our stress hormone cortisol, in combination with high-insulin levels.
Low Sugar Fun
Now it’s time for the fun to start. How can you keep your family’s sugar intake low without sacrificing any of the fun?
- Watch out for hidden sugars –Things like sauce contain a lot of hidden sugar. Try making versions of these condiments so you can save your sugar intake for the good stuff. Common names for sugar in ingredient lists include high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar or juice, maltose, dextrose, rice syrup, and caramel.
- Consider going bun free – When you’re firing up the BBQ, consider serving options sans bun. White flour converts straight into sugar in your body, so get creative on what to sandwich around your burger. Some ideas are portobello mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, or grilled pineapple slices.
- DIY your treats –You can make a lot of yummy and healthy alternatives to iced treats, soft drinks, and snack foods at home where you can control exactly what’s going into them.
- Use sugar substitutes – Natural sugar substitutes with a low-glycemic load (less dramatic spikes on the sugar rollercoaster) such as coconut sugar, xylitol, and stevia are great options to sweeten your summer treats and baking.
- Build your events around activities, not food – Plan your fun around games, sites, and activities. Don’t make food the focus, and stay on track with sugar-free, healthy meals.
- Limit alcohol – Alcohol carries enormous amounts of sugar as well as puts a strain on your liver and kidneys. Summer can be a time to overindulge in alcoholic beverages, so I always recommend being extra mindful of your consumption or enjoy a mocktail. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have alcohol free.
- Take advantage of the abundance of fresh fruit – We are fortunate in the amount of mouth-wateringly delicious fresh fruit that is available today. Summer, in particular, brings favourites such as cherries, peaches, watermelon, and berries. Your body processes the natural sugars in fruit differently than refined sugar, and fruit is packed with nutrients, fibre, and water to make a perfect treat for your family.
Cultivate a Mindful Approach
To stress about eating sugar can create issues, so I remind my patients that balance in everything is key, and it’s okay to indulge once in a while. Indulgence can be a part of healthy living as long as we are mindful and eat these foods in moderation.
Be mindful today of the quality of food you and your family eat, but also the quality of the memories you’re making.