(NEW YORK)– The holiday season can be one of the most tempting times of year when it comes to overindulging in desserts and other sugary foods.
“Sugar releases dopamine and opioids in the brain, which are substances that are known to be released in the reward center of the brain,” Dr. Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist at the Weill Cornell Medicine center and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, told ABC News of why people are so naturally drawn to sweets.
“Some people can take one bite of a dessert and be satisfied,” Kumar added. “For others, one bite of something sweet is a trigger to really lead to a binge.”
The Sugar Association, a trade association of for the U.S. sugar industries, told ABC News in a statement that it recommends “enjoying sugar in moderation and living an active lifestyle.”
Consuming too many added sugars, however, can contribute to negative health outcomes such as weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton appeared live on “Good Morning America” to break down some of her top tips to help curb your sugar intake while navigating holiday dinners and events this year.
Dr. Ashton’s expert tips on how to curb sugar intake at holiday parties:
1. Fill your plate with protein and vegetables
Loading up on proteins and vegetables during dinner can help fill you up before you hit the dessert table and make a sugar binge less likely, according to Ashton.
2. Skip mixed drinks
If you would like to imbibe at a holiday party, skip mixed drinks in favor of hard liquors mixed with water or club soda.
3. Drink some caffeine after dinner, before dessert
Try to sip on some coffee or espresso after finishing dinner and before dessert, as a little bit of caffeine can help curb your appetite.
Secrets to avoiding sugar over the holidays from celebrity chef Graham Elliot
Chef Graham Elliot, the owner of Gideon Sweet and a star of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” lost approximately 150 pounds after embarking on a wellness journey that began in 2013.
Elliot told ABC News that one of his weight loss secrets was swapping out healthy alternatives to high-calorie ingredients in his cooking.
“I think it’s important to try to come up with some alternatives that you can have that great delicious holiday flavor but not all the calories and things associated with it,” Elliot said.
“You can substitute ingredients for other ones, so instead of having to rely on rich heavy ice cream, gelato, things like that, you can do whipped Greek yogurt, a little bit of honey, agave nectar that’s going to sweeten it up and you still get that texture, that beautiful creaminess,” he said.
Elliot said his apple tart recipe is the perfect example of a low-calorie spin on a classic apple pie and said it shows how you can easily substitute new ingredients into a classic holiday dessert recipe to make it a bit healthier.
The chef said he roasts the fruit in order to get the most of its flavor extracted, as opposed to “putting it in a crust with a pound of sugar and butter.”
“Give the apple flavor a little sugar, cinnamon, put in the oven at a low temp, let it caramelize, scoop that out, fill it with this whipped Greek that we’ve added a touch of honey to,” he added. “And then topped with roasted almonds.”
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