Pour Some Sugar on Me: Debunking Holiday Sugar Myths

Most holidays are celebrated with some kind of family feast. We think of these meals as a high point of the year, stuffing our faces with all our favorite foods, but sometimes we shame ourselves for that indulgence. Should we be so ashamed, or is our indulgence less harmful than we think?

Pour Some Sugar on Me: Debunking Holiday Sugar Myths
Sugar cookies, caramel popcorn, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate — how much should you indulge in sweets this holiday season?

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice... no matter what your winter celebrations entail, they almost definitely include some kind of sweet treat. You may be wary of the effects of this confectionery consumption, but have no fear: much of the holiday-related unease surrounding sugar is unfounded. Read on as we dispel some of these holiday sugar myths.

How We Feel About Holiday Food

Many people look at the holidays as a chance to indulge. Most winter festivities are celebrated with some kind of feast for us to enjoy, surrounded by all our loved ones. In fact, most holidays are celebrated with some kind of banquet or family event. We think of these meals as a high point of the year, stuffing our faces with all our favorite foods. Sometimes, though, we shame ourselves for that indulgence the next day. Should we really be so ashamed, or is our indulgence less harmful than we think?

Two Holiday Sugar Myths

Don’t let false information ruin your holiday celebrations. Before you deny yourself your favorite desserts, check out these common misconceptions.

Myth #1: Sugar High, Sugar Crash

If you’re bringing kids to your holiday celebrations, you may be worried about the sugar high that will come from all of the treats that are sure to be there. Well, fret not. Despite its infamy, the common “sugar high” is actually a myth.

So, why does it seem like your kids are bouncing off a wall after eating a treat? It’s probably a combination of brain chemicals and psychology. Eating good food, especially sugary ones, releases dopamine in our brains — the same chemicals that cause people who do drugs to feel pleasure. The sudden dopamine dump may be the source of that energy spike in your kids, especially if they see these foods as a special treat, which can make them naturally excitable.

Additionally, the psychosocial perception that sugar causes hyperactivity may be causing you to see this effect in your kids after a treat, even if their energy levels are totally normal. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, after all.

Likewise, the so-called “sugar crash” probably has less to do with sugar consumption and more to do with the natural balance and normalization of blood glucose in your body after a large meal. Although this can be exacerbated by high-carb meals or excessive simple sugars, it can happen after any meal.

If you’re genuinely experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar — racing heart, irritability, unusual sweating, anxiety, fainting, confusion, etc. — you should probably contact your doctor, as this can be a sign of diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Myth #2: Sugar Causes Diabetes

The association between diabetes and high blood sugar has led to the vilification of sugars in the diabetes fight. However, the risk factors associated with diabetes are much more complex than simply eating too many sweets.

The high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes actually result from poor insulin function. This can be a genetic issue, or it can stem from other health issues such as obesity or in response to certain medications. Either way, the body fails to produce enough insulin on its own.

Although high sugar intake can increase your blood sugar beyond what your insulin can handle, a more common culprit is lack of exercise/physical inactivity. Insulin removes sugars from the bloodstream and stores them in our muscles, fat, and liver. If there isn’t enough muscle mass to store the sugars you consume, though, this can cause high blood sugar, even if your sugar intake and insulin production are normal.

A regular workout to build up your muscles can go a long way toward regulating your blood sugar, even if you indulge in that extra piece of pumpkin pie.

There are many myths surrounding the sweet holiday treats we love, but what is the truth? How much is too much, and what will sugar do to your health?

How Much Is Too Much?

Just because sugar isn’t as bad as you thought doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want, of course. Overconsumption of sugar is still associated with other health issues — especially heart disease.

As with most things, the key is moderation. The general scientific consensus, supported by the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization, is that adults should limit their sugar intake to around 25 grams per day: roughly 5 to 10% of their daily diet. Ideally, most of those sugars should come from natural sources such as whole fruit, which also contain fiber to slow the digestion of these sugars and keep them from overloading your system.

However, as long as you stick to healthy consumption the other 364 days a year, a few extra cookies on a holiday probably won’t hurt. Health is a long-term effort, so don’t fret too much about one or two days of indulgence, as long as you don’t make it a habit.

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