Holiday Indulgence

christmas-cookiesIt’s typical to drop your guard at holiday time.  Getting caught up in the festivities is probably the biggest excuse to overeat, the definition of which is relative. Generally, it refers to the consumption of an energy intake that is inappropriately large for the amount of energy burned.  Overeating has two categories, both being at least a little influenced by cultural and environmental factors. You can overeat on purpose because you think you’re truly hungry after being exposed to wonderful aromas or you can overeat inadvertently because you failed to pay attention to what and how much was on the plate. Food is more available now than it’s ever been, and marketers are likely to push cheap, energy-dense slop that’s high in fats and sugars, made with simple carbohydrates that’ll spike your insulin in a heartbeat, which can be interrupted if you’re not careful. Sedentary living is part of the total picture, too, as is eating too much of a specific dietary component, such as saturated and trans fats, and refined, simple carbohydrates.  Recently, attention has moved to the glycemic index, a topic to be addressed in a minute. If there are any barriers to changing prevalent overeating, look to corporate ignorance about the effects of energy-dense diets that induce passive, inadvertent overconsumption, to public ignorance about the profound effects of inactivity, and to commercial willfulness about portion sizes and energy density.

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of foods based on how they affect blood sugar levels in the two to three hours after eating.  Foods that break down quickly during digestion have the highest glycemic indices. Foods in the high GI category are mostly simple carbohydrates, those you would find in cakes and cookies, and other foods having refined flour, such as crackers and breads. Currently, glucose is used as the barometer, and is given an index rating of 100. White rice, watermelon, baked potatoes, and corn flakes are considered high GI foods. On the opposite side of the coin, most fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, meat, eggs, and nuts are low GI foods. People who pay attention to GI are at reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. (Temelkova-Kurktschiev. 2000)  (Balkau. 1998)

Using the GI, one may calculate glycemic load (GL) by combining the quality and quantity of carbohydrate. Right now it’s the best way to predict blood glucose values of different types and amounts of food.  There is a formula: GL= (GI x available carbohydrate in a food) ÷ 100
This is based on the premise that a high GI food eaten in small amounts would yield the same effect on blood sugar as a low GI food eaten in larger amounts.

Alcohol use or abuse is part of the holiday equation for many people. While it has been suggested that alcohol consumption may lower blood glucose (Salaspuro. 1977)  (Plougman. 2003), starch-based beverages, such as beer, may not, depending on the grain from which it is made. (Joffe. 1982)  A recent study in Boston examined the relationships of alcohol intake, carbohydrate quality (GI), quantity (GL), and incidence of Type 2 diabetes, and reported that alcohol consumption attenuates the concern, though volume is a factor. (Mekary. 2011)  There always has to be a “but,” right?  Here it is. There is a condition called “holiday heart syndrome,” which usually hits heavy drinkers, whether chronic or not. But it can also happen to people who drink very little, where heart rhythm disturbances appear seemingly out of nowhere. To a person with established heart disease, this can be a serious matter. (Menz. 1996) To a seasoned drinker, atrial fibrillation can scare him sober. (Greenspon. 1083)

A diet high in carbohydrates may cause elevated insulin concentrations that raise the risk for breast disease through the stimulation of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which is part of a complex system that cells use to communicate with their environment. IGF plays a key role in the development of cancers (Figuero.1992) (Lajous. 2008), where it sends mitogenic signals to neoplastic cells and directs them to proliferate. (Friedrich. 2010)  Cows and humans share this hormone, and that makes dairy suspect, as well. Interest in GI and GL was piqued after their role in breast disease in the presence of IGF and elevated insulin levels was suggested.  Italian scientists found that total carbohydrate intake has little association with breast cancer risk, but that high glycemic index and high glycemic load do. (Sieri. 2007) Observational studies in Australia concur with their European counterparts, where investigators at the Human Nutrition Unit of the University of Sydney related low GI and low GL diets to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, inferring that high postprandial glucose is a mechanism for the progression of disease. (Barclay. 2008)

Minimal carbohydrate consumption, or at least the consumption of complex, high-fiber carbohydrates, has a beneficial effect on health. These foods that take a long time to  digest become nutrition for the cells of the colon and create short-chain fatty acids that ferment to prevent colon diseases. In fact, they’re considered the primary prevention of colorectal cancer.  (Scheppach. 2001)  (Englyst. 2005)

So, then, how do you handle holiday eating? Focusing on the company instead of the food is the first step. When you eat, do it slowly while keeping serving size in check. You might even eat healthy stuff before you go to a party and only sample the less desirable victuals. High GI foods can stiffen arteries for a few hours after eating and render epithelial cells dysfunctional.  Not good.  (Greenfield. 2007)  Avoid the sugar; go for the shrimp.  (


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