As fun and merry as the holiday season is, it also happens to be the peak season for gut-related problems and unwanted weight gain. One of the biggest culprits behind both of these issues is sugar. The biggest danger is that all the desserts, candy, condiments, and sugary drinks are deceptively rewarding because they give you an instant sugar rush but make you sluggish and tired soon after a meal. The good news is - there’s a way to reverse all of these unwanted effects. Let us explain.
Why does sugar make you feel bad?
Enjoying a bit too much sugar is something we all do from time to time. And that’s fine, as long as it doesn’t become a daily habit because overdoing it with sugar regularly has many adverse long-term effects on the body, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular issues, Alzheimer’s disease, and excessive weight gain. In order to understand how to reduce the negative effects of sugar on the body, we must explain how the human body metabolizes sugar.
Once you’ve eaten a piece of candy, it is digested into glucose and released into the bloodstream. This gives you an instant spike of energy and releases dopamine into the blood. In order to keep blood sugar levels in check, the pancreas starts making insulin, and the blood glucose levels drop rapidly as it exits the bloodstream and enters the cells, leading to a crash in energy levels as soon as 15 minutes after eating, leaving you craving more sugar as a result.
A sugar crash affects people differently, causing anything from headaches and sluggishness to depression, acne, and digestive upsets (read more about these symptoms here - The Effects of Added Sugar). To prevent a crash from occurring and compensate for the harmful effects of sugar, follow these simple tips.
1. Do not skip meals
You may think that skipping a meal after two or three servings of dessert will save you some calories and prevent weight gain, but we want to alert you that this is a serious mistake. Here’s why. As we explained earlier, sugary foods are digested very quickly, so you will be left hungry and exhausted all day if you skip a meal.
In fact, you’ll be better off eating something high in protein or fiber (like a handful of nuts, berries, or plain popcorn) right after consuming large quantities of sugar because this will slow down digestion and prevent a sugar crash. For the same reason, eating something sweet on a full stomach is much better too.
2. DHA-rich foods may offset the long-term negative impact of sugar
First and foremost, what on earth is DHA? Docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in fish, shellfish, algae, chia seeds, walnuts, and fish oil supplements. DHA is the main structural component of brain cells, skin, and the retina, and it’s essential for our general health, especially as we age. A 2016 research paper from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that omega-3s may undo the genetic damage of sugar on the body.
The study was conducted on rats who drank the human equivalent of 1 liter of soda (more than 4 cups) a day in fructose syrup. The animals who took DHA and fructose syrup were just as healthy as the control group that drank plain water, suggesting that the DHA was able to protect the animals from the adverse long-term effects of sugar.
Although it cannot be stated for certain that the same effects will be true in humans, many people are already taking a fish oil supplement for other reasons, so consider the possible long-term protective effects against sugar a bonus.
3. Get your body moving
If you want to prevent the excess sugar you ate from turning into fat, try and move around after the sugar-rich meal. This will give your muscles the opportunity to use up all the extra blood glucose. Don’t think that you have to go and do an intensive workout either. Just a little walk around your neighborhood or a cleaning session after a meal will help you lower your blood sugar. According to the American Diabetes Association, just a 15-minute walk after a meal can reduce blood sugar levels.
4. You needn’t worry about the occasional sweet treat
Stop feeling guilty after an occasional slice of cake or candy bar. Instead, learn to savor and enjoy it. This way, you’ll learn to get more satisfaction out of each bite instead of guilt-tripping yourself. After all, a piece of candy or two will not change your weight or have a monumental impact on your health. According to Amanda Bontempo, a nutritionist who spoke to Reader's Digest, you’d need to eat 3,500 calories (about 44 fun-size Snickers bars) worth of sugar to gain 1 pound of fat.
So a few pieces of chocolate or a slice of your favorite cake will not change your appearance or your health. The possibly obvious exception to this is people who suffer from diabetes. If you accidentally increase your sugar intake, this could lead to severe hyperglycemia, so contact your doctor and make sure to monitor your blood sugar regularly.
5. Probiotics are your best friends
You’re likely familiar with the gut-brain axis, or the idea that gut bacteria influence the brain and mental health. More specifically, a diet high in sugar was shown to impair cognitive abilities in the short term, causing brain fog and lowering one’s cognitive abilities. The long-term effects of sugar are no less alarming, as there is evidence linking depression and a high-sugar diet.
On the bright side, improving your gut microbiome by encouraging the growth of good bacteria can have a beneficial effect on your gut and brain! So if you’ve had something sweet, enjoying probiotic-rich foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, or Greek yogurt can help even out the proportion of beneficial gut bacteria and avoid headaches and brain fog.
6. Stay away from more sugary foods
This may sound obvious, but keep in mind that many savory or “healthy” foods have hidden sugar in them. Granola, flavored yogurt, fruit juices, alcohol, salad dressing, ketchup or other condiments, bread, and dozens of other foods have pretty high amounts of added sugar - a topic we discuss in detail in the article 10 Foods High in Sugar.
In addition, we want to urge you not to fall for false advertising and stay away from “natural” sources of sugar like brown sugar, coconut sugar, or maple syrup. These sugars are just as bad for you as other sugary foods, so try to avoid them on a day you’ve already had some candy or other dessert.
7. Compensate with a healthy meal
The deed is done, and you’ve already had too much sugar for the day. What foods should you eat to counterbalance the sugary food you had earlier? The perfectly-balanced meal after a sugar binge should be high in protein and fiber, have some fat, and it should be low in carbs. The protein, fiber, and fat will make your meal filling, and the low carbohydrate content will promote yesterday’s sugar to be used up.
Whole-grain avocado toast topped with an egg, a vegetable omelet, or salad with grilled chicken and a simple lemon and oil dressing are all excellent options for you to consider. Last but definitely not least, stay hydrated and enjoy some plain antioxidant-rich green tea with lemon to reduce sugary drink cravings.
Share these tips with those who have a sweet tooth!