It’s Sugar Season: How to Cope

The holiday season is here and, inevitably, people are asking me about cookies again. “Will the sugar kill me?” is accompanied with an anxious laugh.

Yes, I know research says that sugar is evil, yadda yadda. But sugar is misunderstood. After all, your brain right now is running on a sugar: glucose. So in the spirit of the season, let’s celebrate sugar — in a smart way.

Keep what I call the ‘Golden Rule of Sugar’ in mind as you’re going from holiday party to holiday party: Only eat sugar — whether it comes in the form glucose, fructose or sucrose — with nutrients, namely, fiber, fats, minerals and phytonutrients from plants. This sugar-busting move helps increase the nutrient density of your holiday treats, while still satisfying your seasonal sweet tooth.

Can you slim down, boost brain function and eat the cookie? I think so. Here’s your sugar strategy.


Go nuts!

Nothing tells your body to gain weight like a quintessential holiday sugar cookie. That delicious mouthful of white carb and white sugar gets your pancreas squirting out insulin, the hormone that says “make fat cells bigger.” The first step towards a better cookie is adding nuts, or even making your treats primarily with nuts — like a pecan ball. This adds fats, protein, minerals and antioxidant phytonutrients. Even better would be to add extra plant-based ingredients (think unsweetened coconut, pumpkin puree, seeds and dark chocolate) and use a non-refined flour like almond or hazelnut meal.

Opt for hot cocoa

2014-12-15-SugarHotCocoa672.jpegMolecules in dark chocolate may reverse age-related memory loss according to a new study by Scott Small, M.D., at Columbia University. These medicinal molecules found in plants are called phytonutrients, and while we often refer to them as “antioxidants,” they are so much more than this. The key again is to maximize flavanol intake while minimizing white sugar. So make an easy hot cocoa. Over low heat, I start with grass-fed whole milk (or milk substitute if you are off dairy), add a dollop of honey and dump in cocoa powder. Mix vigorously.

Swap booze for kombucha

I’m all for a festive drink or two, but am wary of alcohol as a hidden source of sugar. Plus, being irritable, low energy or grumbly — in other words, hungover — during this time year isn’t an option if you’re a parent like me. Throwing a party? Serve a kombucha, a effervescent low-alcohol fermented tea, as an alternative to super-potent IPAs or sweet, strong cocktails.

Detox with a dozen oysters

Oysters are the perfect sugar-detox food. You get a great dose of minerals like chromium, which makes your body better at processing sugar. They also give you crucial nutrients your health is likely missing: vitamin D, long-chained omega-3 fats and zinc. For all you flexi-vegans, this is your B12!

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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