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Missing holiday sweet treats?

Anyone missing those sweet holiday treats? Just me?

I love the holidays.  I love the gatherings, the lights, the decorations – and all the deliciousness!  I am a firm believer in balance and enjoying celebratory foods when celebrating.  

But now the holiday season has passed, and it is coming back to me why sweets are for special occasions.

For my fellow physiology nerds, I’ll (sadly) not be discussing glycolysis or Kreb’s cycle today.  Instead, let’s talk about what happens in your body when you eat something sweet and why choosing low-glycemic foods is a good idea.

Low-glycemic vs. high-glycemic

When you eat something sweet – all the way from fruit to honey to cheesecake – your pancreas secretes insulin to help break the carbohydrate down into energy. The amount of insulin is determined by how low or high glycemic the food is.

All sugars cause an insulin response. Our bodies are designed and need to break down carbohydrates. Low-glycemic foods tend to be better for you than high-glycemic foods.

If food is low-glycemic, that means that your body’s insulin response is relatively low.  

If food is high-glycemic, that means that when you eat it, it spikes your blood sugar and causes a strong insulin response, which then leads to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. This is stressful on your body in multiple ways. It can cause you to feel sleepy and tired. Another way is it can lead to degraded insulin sensitivity, harm your health, and negatively impact your sleep as well.

So if you indulged in sweet treats over the holidays and you noticed that you were sleepy, lethargic, hangry, shaky, or had trouble sleeping, those sweet treats could be part of the reason!  

Natural sugars like fruit or honey are better for you than high-fructose corn syrup, which is super high-glycemic.  Refined sugar is also super high-glycemic.  Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), or sucralose (Splenda), are not only high-glycemic, they’re also inflammatory.  

If you’re going to have a sweet treat, choose fruit.  Put honey in your tea or agave in your coffee instead of Splenda.  And reserve sweet treats like cake, cookies, and sweet bread for special occasions.  

High-glycemic sweet treats are stressful and can disrupt your sleep!

When you consume sugar, your pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which breaks down the sugar into energy used by your cells.  Refined sugar induces a strong insulin response, which “burns” the sugar quickly, causing a quick sugar high followed by a sugar crash. 

This low-blood sugar, or hypoglycemic state, is a stressor; which prompts a physiological stress response and cortisol production. 

This process can lead to sugar cravings, which may cause you to repeat the cycle: sugar consumption, insulin release, hypoglycemia, cortisol release, sugar craving. 

Repetition of the same cycle subjects the body to chronic stress, which can have devastating long-term health effects. 

Let’s back up and talk about cortisol again.  The purpose of cortisol in the body is to enable you to best deal with a stress event, like being chased by a grizzly bear. 

One of the ways cortisol helps you deal with stress is by increasing alertness and heart rate.  

If you spent the day caught in the aforementioned sugar cycle, or even if you eat sweets late in the evening, hypoglycemia and subsequent cortisol production will make it difficult to get quality sleep.

When your sugar drops while you’re sleeping, your body perceives that as being chased by a bear. You can’t run away from a grizzly bear while you’re sleeping, so your body will wake you up. 

There are so many awesome things about the holiday season, including the delicious foods and treats. January is a great time to recommit to low-glycemic foods and saving sweet treats for special occasions!

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