The 4-step fad-free post-Halloween health kick
“Trick or treat?” is phrased as a question, but most of us “treat” with impunity: it’s easy to overdo it on candy at this time of year.
Our bodies have the ability to manage sugar in moderation. The associated problems — obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, tooth decay — can arise when we consume too much of it.
But if you scoff a few too many fun-sized Mars bars this week, don’t give up hope. Just follow these four tips from Concordia’s healthy eating experts.
1. Get informed about sugar
Halloween is a great time to learn about sugar and where candy fits into a healthy diet.
Sugar is neither good nor bad; it’s simply a carbohydrate present in many foods, says Gabriella Szabo, health promotion specialist at Concordia.
“The impact sugar has on your body is determined by the package it comes in,” she adds.
Sazbo explains that sugars occur naturally in many foods such as fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Naturally occurring sugars (the ones Nature put there) are not associated with health harms; indeed, these foods are an important part of a healthy diet.
For example, an orange contains similar calories and a bit more sugar than one miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but the orange boasts plenty of nutrients.
“When I eat a candy bar, I get a whole lot of sugar but not many vitamins, minerals or much fiber,” says Szabo. “These are nutrients the body needs, and that are found in abundance in minimally processed foods like oranges.”
Sugar is added to many foods, including Halloween candy and chocolate, but also soda, fancy coffees, cereal and sauces.
“You may also add sugar as you prepare food at home — in your baked goods, for example,” Szabo says. “Many of these sugary foods are highly processed and contain few nutrients your body needs.”
Sweet treats are always going to be high in sugar and fat, but what matters most is how often, and how much, of them you eat.
The World Health Organization recently reviewed its research on sugar. It recommends that adults limit their intake of added sugars to less than five to 10 per cent of their total energy intake.
“A quick glance at the nutrition panel of Halloween candies and other junk foods can demonstrate just how easy it is to reach this amount, if you include these foods,” Szabo says, adding that, for example, three to six miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would get you to the limit for the day.
2. Get off the couch
The best way to stop yourself from turning into a sugar zombie is to get up and do something.
Thea Demmers, dietitian and coordinator of the nutrition suite at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre, says our body manages insulin more efficiently when we exercise.
“Physical activity affects our response to insulin. It makes our body use insulin better.”
Demmers also says sugar is not the only dietary culprit. Essentially, when people consume more calories than they use, the body stores the energy in the most efficient way it knows — as fat.
3. Eat regular meals
According to Demmers, a consistent meal schedule supplemented by nutritious snacks works no matter what the season. It’s an excellent way to avoid becoming too hungry and binging on junk food.
“I would also recommend keeping a balance and variety in your diet and making sure you have colourful meals,” she adds. “That’s been shown to help provide us with a variety of vitamins and minerals as well.”
By the way — when she says “colourful,” Demmers isn’t talking about Gobstoppers and Astro Pops. Instead of chowing down on an apple-flavoured gumball, go for the real thing.
4. Don’t succumb to fad diets and detoxes
On a day-to-day basis, Demmers recommends drinking water regularly and carrying healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables or yogurt.
Both Demmers and Szabo warn against fad diets and detoxes, describing them as expensive and unnecessary.
“Don’t put effort or money or time into detox programs,” says Szabo. “Do what successful changers do: they set a smart goal, build commitment and track their progress.”
In the meantime, check out these tips from Concordia’s Health Services about How to Effectively Set, Achieve and Maintain Your Health Goals.
Concordia’s Health Services has health promotion specialists who can help you on your journey to healthier living. Contact them to book an appointment.
The PERFORM Centre also offers healthy cooking classes and nutrition counselling programs with a registered dietitian.