It’s hard not to love the holidays. The jolly lights, the smell of evergreen, hot cocoa and peppermint, the frosty chill in the air – everything just seems so cozy and nostalgic. But of course, the holidays can also be a notorious time for eating more than usual. Between traditional holiday meals and an abundance of cookies and candy, it can be hard to avoid. And while it is widely known that eating too much sugar can cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, it could be contributing to your muscle and joint pain as well. As the holiday season approaches, we wanted to share some useful knowledge on how sugar can contribute to chronic pain as well as some helpful tips to find relief.
The secret of sugar
Sugar, of course, is a main ingredient in foods like candy, cakes, ice cream, and other deserts, and there is usually plenty of these treats to go around during the holidays. But there is a lot of sugar hidden in most processed foods as well. Processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during production and preparation. That can include things such as freezing and canning, and it even impacts a lot of “healthy” items such as granola bars, yogurt, bread, and sports drinks.
What does sugar have to do with chronic pain?
When we consume too much sugar, our body releases insulin and stress hormones. Those, in turn, can trigger inflammation, which often leads to chronic pain. The places where we have the least amount of blood circulation are at greatest risk of inflammation. That is why the joints and back are common pain points and can be the most dramatically impacted by sugar consumption.
Naturally occurring sugars, like the sweet stuff found in fruits and vegetables, pose minimal harm. Most research points to refined sugars as being the most troublesome. Refined sugar is included in baked goods, candy, and ice cream.
Tips for chronic pain relief
Here are a few simple tips you can follow to help regulate blood sugar and keep inflammation down.
- Choose good carbs and avoid bad carbs – Good carbs contain a lot of fiber and are absorbed slowly into our systems. Good carbs are found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Bad carbs tend to spike blood sugar levels. Bad carbs are found in foods such as white bread, white rice, sugary beverages, and sweets.
- Drink water – Staying hydrated helps your kidneys flush out excess blood sugar.
- Stay active – Maintaining a healthy weight helps to ensure that your body can process insulin effectively. Staying active can also help reduce stress and avoid caving in to your cravings.
- Manage your stress – Stress can actually stimulate the release of hormones that cause blood sugar levels to rise.
- Get enough sleep – Sleep deprivation can also impact your hormones which play an important role in controlling blood sugar.
Moderation is key
Americans on average consume around 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day, which comes out to 66 pounds every year. The recommended daily allowance is about 6 teaspoons per day for women and about 9 teaspoons for men.
Limiting sugar in the diet can help reduce inflammation in the body and sometimes can help ease or limit the pain you are feeling. Eliminating all sugar from your diet can be very tough, especially during the holiday season. Instead, try taking small steps. Make sure to read nutrition labels to seek out hidden sugar in some of your favorite foods, choose natural and fresh foods when you can, and enjoy holiday treats in moderation.