This time of year sweets and treats are everywhere. In fact, it starts at Halloween and follows us all the way through New Years . . . candy, pies, cookies, cakes, fudge, and brittles.
You may be concerned about the impact this has on your waistline, but most just plan to worry about that in January. More concerning to me is how a daily intake of sugar causes pain and inflammation.
Over the past few decades, sugar consumption is dramatically increasing and corollated with a rise in obesity, autoimmune disease, diabetes, arthritis, and other painful inflammatory conditions. Do you know how much sugar you are eating?
The average American consumes about 150 pounds of sugar per year (most I would wager to guess during October, November, and December). Our holiday diets are often high in refined starches and sugars which promotes an increase in inflammation, achiness, chronic disease, and pain.
The connection between sugar consumption and pain is often surprising to our clients. So, I want to address some of the frequently asked questions on the subject so you can decide for yourself as to whether your seasonal aches and pains (or those you experience any time of year) could be worsened by your food choices.
What does inflammation from sugar feel like?
Inflammation in our body results in pain (think of swelling around a sprained ankle). It can present as joint stiffness, muscle aches and tension, tightness, digestive discomfort, and migraines.
Is sugar in foods other than cookies and candy?
Absolutely! The truth is sugar in hiding in most of the processed foods and beverages we consume all day. In addition to "added sugars" that you see on product packages, any carbohydrate we consume turns to sugar in the body. It all adds up quickly.
Why can't I stop eating sugar?
Sugar is highly addictive (especially high fructose corn syrup) because it alters the transmissions of brain chemicals and triggers the pleasure center of the brain. Do you ever decide to eat just one cookie, but find yourself unsatisfied? The sugar makes you want more, causes intense cravings for other carbohydrates, and causes withdrawal symptoms.
Is it ok to consume sugar from fruit?
Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar in fruit. When in its natural form, it comes packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Whole fruit consumption is a healthy part of your diet in moderation. It's the added sugars we are most concerned about that provides zero nutritional value with all those added calories.
How much sugar is ok?
Everyone is different in their tolerance to sugars and ability to break down carbohydrates. As a starting point, most people should try to stay between 25 and 35 grams of sugar in a day. For reference, a can of soda contains about 35 grams of sugar.
Fortunately, the FDA now requires food packages to include "added sugars" under carbohydrates on food labels. Do a little investigation in your pantry of your favorite foods and check the labels at the grocery store.
The best way to stay low on the sugar scale is to stick with a whole food diet. Building your meals around the produce department and meat counter will ensure added sugars aren't sneaking in.
But what about holiday treats? I'm not saying you have to avoid them all together. However, if you are struggling with significant joint pain or trying to heal from an autoimmune issue you may want to take your food choices more seriously.
If you want some tips on making your favorite treats this season without experiencing muscle aches and joint stiffness, go back to the blog post "Simple Swaps for Healthy Holiday Baking".
Still not sure about the sugar-pain connection? Want more information on how to nourish your body to heal from inflammation and pain? Send me your questions firstname.lastname@example.org or visit find out more about Wellness Coaching services at the link below.