We’re all familiar with the effect that sugar has on our bodies. That high you get after eating ice cream or even a bowl of pasta often leads to a crash. Sugar releases dopamine, which can cause cravings to surge and energy to plummet.
Though it creates temporary feel-good sensations, regular consumption of sugar can lead to harmful long-term effects on the body, such as weight gain, inflammation, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of concentration, increased appetite, and more.
The holidays are a time we look forward to, but all the celebrating can catch up to us, making it hard to manage our blood sugar levels. Let’s face it, you're going to enjoy a cookie or two! Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives for you to enjoy a sweet snack without overdoing it.
Here’s what you can do this holiday season to balance blood sugar levels naturally.
1. Keep Your Routine
Staying on track as you close out the year can seem impossible…but is so worth it. The events and holidays are fun but can feel overwhelming and may make you want to kick your feet up on the couch and veg out. Sticking to your daily habits that contribute to your well-being will bring you balance as the marathon to the new year turns into a sprint. Daily practices like exercising, sleeping, and eating become even more important during busy times. All of these things influence blood sugar levels. Maintaining a routine will prevent them from rising and falling dramatically.
2. Practice Self-Control
The temptation to make poor food choices is way too easy as we enter this festive time. Setting boundaries for yourself beforehand can help you stay on track. Keeping sugary sweets out of the house is a good first step. Be the designated driver to limit drinking (alcoholic drinks can have lots of sugar), and don’t linger around the dessert table if you know you’ll be tempted. Being intentional about what you eat and drink is going to help you build healthy habits and can lead to making better food choices without a second thought.
3. Don’t Overeat
Do your best to stop eating once you're satiated. To do this, make sure you’re eating throughout the day so you aren’t starved for your next meal.
Binge eating can be harmful as it reduces insulin sensitivity. This resistance prevents the body from using glucose and carbohydrates for energy. Mood swings, hunger, and metabolic issues are common problems when the body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. Eating foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein will help keep you feeling full longer. They may also slow the absorption of sugar, to help control blood sugar.
4. Go Easy on the Sweets
This can be really tough to control as spreads of cookies, cakes, and pastries line the dessert table, luring you in. So what should you eat when craving sweets? To limit sugar intake and get your fix, avoid foods with added sugar. Naturally-sweet apples can be baked with cinnamon and nuts, or a little dark chocolate is a healthier choice. Both of these foods have health benefits of their own!
Cinnamon is an incredible spice that stimulates digestion, increases insulin sensitivity, and regulates blood sugar. Experts have linked cinnamon consumption to improved side effects of people with Type 2 diabetes and hyperglycemia. Spices are a great way to manipulate the body into thinking it’s getting the sweet stuff, without the negative effects.
Dark chocolate is a nutritional powerhouse and contains less sugar than milk chocolate bars or semi-sweet chips. Chew on a chunk before you join the dessert line, and your cravings will diminish.
5. Drink in Moderation
You may be finding yourself enjoying happy hour more often around the holidays. As always, it’s important to drink in moderation, but keeping sugary drinks at bay is an important step in maintaining blood sugar. Cocktails and mixed drinks contain syrups and mixers. Opt for hard kombucha, red wine, or a clear spirit mixed with club soda or freshly-squeezed juice.
6. Replace Traditional Recipes With Healthier Ones
Refined carbs, grains, and sugars are the ones that we crave the most but have almost no health benefits. They’ve been stripped of all the good stuff your body needs through processing. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way when it comes to making healthy substitutions. There are several types of flour now used for healthier baking: coconut, almond, and chickpea are just a few. Applesauce, carrots, sweet potatoes, and fresh fruit are great alternatives for a sweet kick. Cauliflower is versatile and can be used in place of mashed potatoes and rice for a healthy side dish to bring to a holiday party.
7. Stay On Your Meal Schedule
When you skip meals, your blood sugar drops and you get more hungry. When you're hungry, you may have a tendency to indulge in foods to quickly satisfy you, causing sugar levels to go out of whack. Waiting to eat so you can be hungry for a party may seem like a good idea, but you’re better off keeping a consistent eating schedule. You'll end up feeling much better throughout the day because your mood and energy levels won’t be rising and falling..
8. Get Enough Sleep
It can feel like a mad dash to get to the end of the year, but you need all the energy you can get! Wrapping tasks up at work, preparing for the year to come, and entertaining guests can be taxing. Catching up on those Z’s may seem impossible but it’s really important to prioritize getting enough rest. Too much sugar can affect the quality of sleep and your body’s ability to metabolize fat into energy. Less sleep can lead to a rise in cortisol, which plays a key role in blood sugar maintenance.
9. Celebrate Without Sweets
You're going to be partying all month long. Instead of finishing dinner with dessert, choose another way to celebrate. Reward yourself with quality time and fun alternatives. Go for a walk with your family after dinner or play a game instead. This time of year is all about gathering with loved ones, so why not lean into that a little more and change up your nightly routine!
When your eating and lifestyle habits are healthy, moving into this part of the year will be much easier. A little discipline goes a long way when it comes to managing your health, and these preventative measures can have long-term benefits. Maintaining blood sugar levels will help give you what you need to have a strong start in the new year.
Lilith is originally from The Hudson Valley in New York. Growing up in this area made it easy to access the outdoors, and having a healthy, active lifestyle has always been natural to her. Her sense of adventure and curiosity has taken her around the globe, shaping her perspective on life and human connection.
After graduating from SUNY Purchase College in Westchester, NY, she moved to Brooklyn. From there, she got bit by the travel bug and spent three years traveling on and off all over the world, using NYC as her base. She backpacked solo through South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East. After returning from a year-long stint overseas, she moved to Aspen where she spent a winter season on the slopes.
Lilith sees the value of art and incorporates it into her life by doing or seeing at least one artistic thing a week. When she's not geeking out over health and wellness, she can be found checking out a new restaurant, seeing live music, and petting every dog she sees walk by.
She currently resides in beautiful, sunny Los Angeles.