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Sugar is everywhere. About 75 percent of packaged foods have added sugar — and some data suggest Americans eat as much as 77 pounds of added sugar each year.
Naturally, sugar in all its forms seems to be more prevalent around the holidays. After Halloween kicks off the sugar rush at the end of October, we’ve got Thanksgiving (and friendsgiving), the office holiday parties, the family gatherings, Christmas — and finally all the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
These fun times provide plenty of opportunity (and excuses!) for us to overdo it on festive cocktails and rich desserts, but even avoiding these may not render us as sugar-free as we might think. Sugar is not just confined to baked goods and beverages; it can be found in other foods such as casseroles, marinades, dry rubs, sauces, dressings, condiments, yogurt, granola, canned fruits and — yes, all of those “low-fat” food products.
So unless we flat-out refuse to partake in fun holiday festivities (and who wants to do that?), chances are we’re probably getting sugar from somewhere.
Why is sugar so bad, anyway? In small amounts, sweet is pretty swell. But when we overdo it, sugar can cause inflammation in our bodies (the root cause of many chronic diseases). It can cause spikes in blood sugar and subsequent energy crashes, acne, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, brain fog, headaches, heart disease, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, metabolic disorder … the list goes on and on, and none is a good situation for our health and well-being.
There’s not currently a daily recommended percentage for sugar on food labels, so it may be hard to know how much sugar is in a product relative to the total we should have each day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 38 grams of added sugar per day for men.
“Added sugar” is what the consumer or food companies add to a product — not sugar found naturally in fruit, veggies, dairy, etc., though these can have added sugar, too. Natural sugar is not generally a nutritional concern for most healthy people, though a majority of food labels do not differentiate between added and natural sugar. New food labels are coming out in 2018 with an “added sugar” line that will make it easier for consumers to differentiate between the two types.
For now, look in the ingredients list for a roster of added sugars, but beware — just because an ingredient list doesn’t contain the word “sugar” doesn’t mean there isn’t any added.
There are over 60 different names for sugar, including the common culprits honey, molasses, agave nectar, fruit juice, and barley malt. Anything ending in syrup (maple, corn, high fructose corn) or “-ose” (fructose, glucose, sucrose) also reveals a sugar.
Over the holidays, sugar can add up quickly, but there are some small efforts we can make to help decrease the amount we consume. Read food labels and ingredient lists to see what’s in the food. Sugar is often hidden in things we wouldn’t expect, like marinades and condiments. The New Primal has a marinade for every palate, and each is gluten-free — as well as Whole30 Approved. These also pair perfectly with holiday meats like turkey, tenderloins, roasts, pork, and fish. And they can be used as dipping sauces in place of condiments high in sugar (e.g., ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, teriyaki sauce).
Be sure to eat a little something before going to a party to avoid being ravenous and devouring every morsel in sight. And go easy on the alcohol. Have one festive cocktail — and then switch to a low-sugar option like vodka and club soda with a slice of fruit. And be sure to drink water in between.
When making up a plate, put veggies on at least half the space, and be sure to eat them first, to fill up on nutrition-dense foods rather than unhealthier options. Then, don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of that pecan pie you’ve been eyeing all night. Have a few bites and savor the flavor.
Bottom line: It’s important to enjoy the company of friends and family — and celebrate the holidays without being stressed about food. Do the best you can, don’t worry about tiny missteps — and vow to be healthier in the year ahead.
Jamie Johnson  is a registered dietician nutritionist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. More information about The New Primal can be found here .