While this year hasn’t quite brought the return to normalcy that lots of folks had hoped for, we’re definitely closer to it now than we were at this time last year. We even had something more like a regular Halloween, trick-or-treaters and all.
That means we had a regular start to what we like to call “Sugar Season,” as well.
It actually kicks off a week or two before Halloween, when you stock up on candy to give to the kids. You might even buy more than you need, sure you’ll be tempted to dip into the stash ahead of the big night. You wouldn’t want to risk running out of treats early, right?
Then there’s Día de los Muertos, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Dongzhi, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s – not to mention all the other festivities leading up to them, many of which are apt to be resumed in some way this year. Food is a big part of our celebrations, especially sweets and lots of simple carbs.
Sure, turkey might be the Thanksgiving headliner, for instance, but no feast is complete without sides like stuffing, potatoes, mac and cheese, rolls, and, of course, pie.
Sugar Season means nearly three months of foods that your taste buds love but your teeth, not so much. That’s because the simple carbs (sugars) and starches you eat also feed harmful bacteria in your mouth. This generates acids that destroy tooth enamel, leaving your teeth vulnerable to decay. At the same time, these foods fuel chronic inflammation, aggravating gum disease.
Of course, you could just avoid the problem foods completely, but there’s a reason why food is so central to celebrations across all cultures. Food is a way of connecting with others and honoring our traditions. It helps us strengthen and sustain our social ties. In this way, it feeds your heart, mind, and soul, as well as your body.
“A shared meal is no small thing,” writes Michael Pollan. “It is a foundation of family life.” And it is the stuff, more broadly, of community. That’s nothing to lightly cast aside, even with the best of intentions.
Truth be told, the holidays don’t have to be all or nothing. You can enjoy your favorite seasonal treats and savor traditional foods. The thing to strive for, really, is balance and moderation. So with that in mind, a few tips to help you and your teeth survive the sugar season…
- For your regular meals, make it as easy as possible to eat healthy when you’re at home. This blog post offers a simple primer on how to do this effectively. For more guidance on making meal prep a snap, check out this guide from Greatist.
- Limit your indulgence in simple carbs to your actual days of celebration. If someone gives you a cookie plate, say, or some homemade fudge or peppermint bark, don’t leave them out to snack on across days and days. Save them instead – freezing, if needed – to enjoy on the actual holidays you observe.
- Festive drinks don’t need to be loaded down with sugar. For a low-sugar eggnog, try making a vegan version or this low carb version, which uses erythritol as a sweetener. (Bonus: Like xylitol, erythritol appears to protect teeth against decay-causing bacteria.) Low-sugar mulled wine is doable, too, such as with this recipe.
- With so many more people following keto, paleo, gluten-free, and other special diets, it’s easier than ever to find recipes for side dishes that are just as yummy and satisfying as traditional sides but without all the simple carbs. Stuffing without the usual breadcrumbs? Sure! Sweet potatoes as a savory side dish? You bet! Cauliflower “mashed potatoes”? Why not? Just head over to your search engine of choice (we love DuckDuckGo ourselves because…privacy) and type in “low sugar” or “keto” or “paleo” plus the name of the dish you want to explore recipes for. Vegan recipes can also be a great source of inspiration.
- For dishes typically made with noodles or pasta, gluten-free pastas can be great substitutes – though not all are created equal, so try out some contenders before the big day. In our opinion, those made from chickpea flour tend to be closest in taste and texture to the real deal. Or skip the noodles altogether and opt for spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables instead.
- Remember salads. All those colorful vegetables! All those contrasting textures! If you want to kick it up a little, add some dried fruit for sweetness – or give it even more layers with slivered or halved nuts or a crumbly cheese such as feta.