It’s that time of year again, when even health counselors eat more candy than they should. Sugary foods form such a big part of our fall and winter holiday celebrations because they cheer us up in spite of the dark and cold weather. Unfortunately, because the sugary foods we eat today (candy, pastries made with white flour and sugar, soda, etc.) are so processed, our cheerfulness lasts only a short time and we end up feeling more depressed and lethargic than before, which in turn causes us to crave even more sugar. The traditional “sugary” foods that people used to eat in this time of year were sweet vegetables such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets (beets, in fact, are the source of most of our refined white sugar). These foods are sweet, but also nutrient rich, and they release their sugars in the digestive system at a steady rate, so we have steady energy and mood instead of being on an emotional roller-coaster.
However, as much as we incorporate whole foods into our diets, our society is still structured around processed foods like white sugar, and it’s important to know how to recover when you’ve eaten too much of it. Here are some suggestions:
1. Drink more water. Excessive sugar intake is dehydrating (even if you’re drinking soda), so the most important thing you can do to neutralize all the sugar is to drink lots and lots of filtered water.
2. Eat more dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, etc. These vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals that your body needs to metabolize and detoxify from the sugar intake. Also, since sugary foods generally have little to nonutrition, eating alongside them the foods that are super high in nutrition provides some balance.
3. Exercise (and/or have your kids exercise): Sugary foods are high in calories that your body can’t use unless you engage in some type of physical activity. While adults have adjusting to storing these calories as fat, kids tend to start bouncing off the walls due to their brief, high energy levels. Exercising helps put the sugar to use.
4. Eat more raw fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, miso and kombucha. Raw fermented foods are foods that start out with some sugar in them, but contain bacteria that have digested the sugar and turned it into nutritious acids, giving the food a sour flavor. Since raw fermented foods are, due to the fermentation process, naturally low in sugar, they form a good counterpart to high-sugar foods.
5. Finally, be aware that depression and fatigue may be a result of diet, and not just because something is wrong with your body. If you’re eating a lot of sugar, these are the natural consequences, so examine your diet and see if there’s a connection. To get your mood and energy back up, eat more of the sweet vegetables listed above, along with fruit, whole grains, and natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave nectar, and raw honey.