The Skinny on Desserts
Desserts during the holidays are as common as snowflakes and gifts. When the holidays arrive, the world suddenly seems like it is buried in sugar-based desserts that everyone knows are no good for them. Just how much sugar is in holiday treats, and why do people consume so much sugar during the holidays? If you’re concerned about your sugar intake this time of year, you’re not alone. Fortunately, you can satisfy your sweet tooth without resorting to processed baked goods. You just need to get a little creative.
Why Do We Crave Sweets?
The effects of sugar on the body and mind are interesting and explain why sugar is so bad for us. When we think of sugar, we usually think of glucose. But glucose is the energy source for the human body, not the culprit in our expanding waistlines. The bad guy in the sugar story is a substance call fructose.
In ancient times, it was easy to control fructose because the only source was fruits. Fructose is naturally available via fruits, as you might guess from the name, but the amount in fruits is small and easy for our bodies to digest and process. Sugary Christmas treats, on the other hand, contain way more fructose than fruits, and that fructose can be devastating to the body.
The liver is in charge of processing fructose, but it’s not capable of keeping up with the amount of fructose we consume during the holidays. Excess fructose turns into fat that is supposed to be stored by the body, but that doesn’t always happen either. Sugary holiday desserts have so much fructose that the excess that can’t be stored as fat is released into the blood stream, which can cause problems with the heart.
So why do we eat so much sugar? The problem here is that the body doesn’t think it’s getting any food (because it really isn’t). Fructose may add a lot of calories and fat to your system, but it won’t make you feel full. Combined with their sweet taste, processed sweets that are laden with fructose push us into a vicious cycle of eating more without really feeling satisfied. This is why we eat so many holiday goodies – and why we need to stop the cycle before it gets out of hand.
How Much Sugar Are We Talking?
On average, a small gingerbread man has around 14 grams of sugar while an unfrosted sugar cookie contains around 9 grams. By way of comparison, a medium apple (3” in diameter) contains 19 grams of sugar. That might seem like a bad deal when a gingerbread man is what you crave, but apples also contain plenty of water and fiber to counteract the sugar, helping you feel full and providing you with essential vitamins and nutrients. Plus, you’re not likely to stop at just one cookie whereas one apple will probably be enough. A handful of those unfrosted cookies adds up quickly and doesn’t do you any good.
If you sit down to a snack of four unfrosted sugar cookies, you would be consuming approximately 36 grams of sugar in the blink of an eye. You would have to eat almost two whole apples of reasonable size to equal that much sugar, and eating two apples would likely tire you out before you finished. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your daily added sugar intake to just 25 grams for women and 36 for men. Those four unfrosted cookies would make up an entire day’s worth of added sugars, and that’s just one small snack. You can see how copious holiday snacking can add up to a big problem.
If you’ve got a big sweet tooth, then rest assured that there are more nutritious alternatives to satiating your sugary palate. A Christmas dessert of baked apples and nuts can be nice on a cold Christmas Eve, and the apples create their own glaze that does not add to the sugar content. You could also go with an apple crisp covered in oats if you wanted something crispy and packed with extra fiber.
If apples aren’t your thing, then pomegranates also make a nice alternative. You can make a pomegranate crisp with oats for a crispy and sweet-tasting Christmas treat. Pomegranates are a superfood, giving you plenty of bang for your buck in the nutrition department. Best of all, they’re in season during late fall and winter, so there’s no excuse not to stock up now.
For variety, try a fruit cobbler made with peaches, blueberries and strawberries topped with a drizzle of honey instead of a dollop of ice cream. You could also whip up your own homemade whipped cream to go with the cobbler using real cream, cinnamon and just a dash of sugar. There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holidays without crashing on a sugary diet of nonstop sweets. Indulge in moderation to keep your heart happy – in more ways than one.