Kristin Irace | Health matters: Have a lower sugar holiday

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It starts with Grandma's Famous Apple Pie and Uncle Larry's Caramel White Russians at Thanksgiving. Next, there are cookie trays at the office, candied yams on Christmas, and the sugary treats just keep coming. It can quickly snowball into a long-term sugar surplus.

Beyond the extra calories and unwanted winter weight, there are other reasons to avoid too much sugar. For example, eating too much sugar can permanently damage your metabolism. The more often you indulge, the more insulin-resistant you can become. Increased insulant resistance puts you at greater risk for a number of major health problems, including cancer, heart attacks, and dementia.

The best way to reduce your risks is to keep your sugar intake under control. And, while that's not always easy over the holidays, it is doable, and it doesn't have to feel like punishment.

Here are five quick tips:

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Set some sugar goals. Determine what you want to do. Do you want to only have one sugary treat per holiday event? Do you want to splurge at one specific holiday event? Something else? It doesn't matter what the goal is; the important thing is to set it. You may want to write it down or tell others who can support you.

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Eat to avoid temptation. If you're headed out to a holiday party where sweets will be abundant, you can minimize temptation by eating strategically. First, don't skip meals to make room for a feast. Instead, put a little food in your belly to avoid showing up hungry, which can weaken willpower. Second, once you arrive, fill up on good stuff first. Look for fresh veggies, cheeses, nuts, olives, and even meats. With a belly full of healthy options, it will be easier to pass on the sugary stuff.

Make friends with water. Water is a natural and calorie-free appetite suppressant. Before you pick up a plate or napkin at any event, drink a glass of water. It will give you a full belly feeling and reduce hunger. If you don't like water or just want to add some excitement, flavored seltzer is a delicious alternative.

Pay attention to your plate. If given an option, choose a smaller-sized plate to help control the size of the portions you take. If you are opting for dessert, make a plate of what you're allowing yourself to eat. Once you've had your fill, toss the plate and move away from the table to avoid mindless grazing.

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Be forgiving. If you slip up and overdo it a bit, don't beat yourself up and don't toss your goals aside. Instead, recognize that you're human and that mistakes happen. Recommit to your goals as soon as you can.

One last thought: if you're invited to a holiday event and asked to bring a dish, be the person who brings a healthy dish that you and others can feel good about eating. You might just find yourself in the company of others who are trying to stay off the holiday-eating naughty list.

Kristin Irace is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.


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