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The Danger Season

With all the good will and cheer of this season, how can it be a dangerous one? Because it is often the season of “too much.” We may party too much, spend too much, drink too much alcohol, smoke too many cigarettes, and of course, eat too much. But this isn\’t a lecture on moderating all of those activities we overdo every December.

This is about sweets. Sugar. Simple carbs.

(A clarification here: by “sweets” I mean simple carbohydrates only, or those foods that go directly into your bloodstream as sugar, such as cakes, candy, pastries, white breads and ice cream. This is as opposed to complex carbohydrates, which the body has to break down into sugar, and which are healthier. These include most fruits and vegetables.)

Too much sugar can be as dangerous as too much alcohol, too much partying, or too many cigarettes. Since the body uses just what it needs of the fuel we give it for immediate energy, sugar molecules in excess of what\’s needed turn into fat. And fat is an issue that is about more than having to change your dress size. Gaining weight leads directly to many health problems, including osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. The latter is not just about too much sugar in the blood, as your grandmother might\’ve said. It\’s a deadly disease that affects virtually every organ in the body, and can lead to kidney failure, heart attacks, blindness, poor healing, and painful nerve damage, among other complications.

Too much sugar and weight gain can also lead to the Metabolic Syndrome, the name given to a group of physical problems that occur together. This syndrome includes having three or more of the following: abdominal obesity, high blood triglycerides, low HDL (“good” cholesterol), high blood pressure, and high fasting glucose. Having this syndrome puts you at high risk for heart attack and/or stroke.

Since sweets are associated with childhood, pleasure, holidays (candy canes at Christmastime, caramel apples at Halloween), and even patriotism (ice cream on the 4th of July; “American as apple pie”), we don\’t tend to see them as dangerous, as we do alcohol. So we\’re not as careful with the amount we take in as we are (or should be) with alcohol. And even though we may think we\’re only going have a “taste” of the goodies, it\’s never just a taste. There\’s a physiologic reason for this. When sugar enters the body, it immediately stimulates the release of insulin to push the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. This results in a lower blood sugar level which makes the body want more fuel, resulting in the appetite being stimulated again, and in particular, stimulated to want more carbs.

Here are suggestions to help you avoid those sweets that are everywhere at this time of the year.

  • Don\’t go to a holiday event with an empty stomach. Drink a warm beverage before you go, and eat something filling like an apple.
  • Avoid the sweets tables like the plague. Don\’t even look at them.
  • Fill your plate with nutritious foods: veggies, fruits, cheese, nuts, chicken and fish.
  • Don\’t hang around eating from the food tables at parties or events. Take your plate and walk away.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. The more you drink, the more uninhibited you\’ll become, and the more difficult it will be to avoid eating too much, especially sweets.
  • When you\’re out shopping, avoid those tables with complimentary holiday sweets.
  • Don\’t leave bowls of treats out all the time in your home; put them out only when company comes.
  • Watch out for hidden carbs – particularly in holiday punches and drinks (like eggnog).
  • Remember: sweets can be dangerous!

Robin and I wish you a happy and healthy 2007 holiday season.

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