The Sugar Season

Halloween is over now, so we can say goodbye to the mini chocolate bars, sticky popcorn balls, candy corn, bite-size fruity gummy things, homemade baked pumpkin goodies, and all of the other sickeningly sugary candies that are easy to snack on and hard to avoid. Or can we? Unfortunately, I think it’s realistic to say that we are now entering The Sugar Season. Or, The Season of Sweetly Fattening and Tempting Treats–AKA The Holidays. Or for me, Diet Hell. But seriously, the quickly approaching holiday season with all of its sugary temptations is something to think about when trying to manage your RA and your health.

Sugar is everywhere! Starting with the Halloween candy and seemingly endless variety of all things pumpkin-flavored, autumn is also full of deliciously sweet baked temptations, like pies and cupcakes and cookies. My birthday as well as my dad’s and my sister’s birthdays are also all during the month of November, so let’s add a couple of birthday cakes to the list, too. At Christmastime, it’s my family’s traditional Christmas cookies that are my downfall–along with chocolate of any kind. Chocolate Santas, chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, chocolate elves, chocolate-covered chocolate–I’ll eat it all.

During all of the years I’ve had arthritis, it’s never been very easy for me to notice or determine if certain foods affect my RA. People ask me all the time about dairy and gluten and other foods and I usually just shrug and honestly say, “I don’ t know.”

However, during the last few years I’m pretty sure that a couple things do make my RA worse: caffeine (I don’t know yet if it’s coffee and/or diet soda) and SUGAR. I don’t think I eat that sugary of a diet in general most of the year, but I’ve noticed having significant and often bad RA flare-ups during the holidays when I’ve been loading up on the sweet treats. I often try to excuse my guilty sugar consumption with: Oh, it’s the holidays, and it won’t hurt to have a treat or two. Right?

Last December I remember both of my hands suddenly flaring up, fingers swollen and painful, which I initially thought was just random and “out of the blue.” But then I stopped and thought about it and realized that I had been consuming an embarrassing number of Christmas cookies that month. Coincidence? Maybe. I suppose it could also be the stress of the holidays along with the sugar that caused the flare-up. It’s so hard to know for sure, but I have noticed a correlation with holiday flare-ups and my own RA, and I have a strong suspicion that my usual holiday diet of increased carbs and sugar could be to blame.

The inflammation-sugar connection is a huge area of interest in the medical world now and in society in general, I’d argue. I’ve read many articles about the role diet and nutrition play regarding inflammation and it seems like sugar is often singled out as one of the inflammatory culprits. If you go online, you can immediately find articles and websites telling you which anti-inflammatory foods to eat if you have arthritis. Or which foods not to eat. Even if there is no scientific research right now that proves that sugar causes or increases arthritis inflammation, we do know that too much sugar is not healthy anyway and can cause other serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. I already have RA and I’m overweight; I don’t need any additional health problems.

So what can you do during the festive holiday season to help ward off the sugar temptations and cravings yet still have fun and not feel like you’re missing out? If anybody has good suggestions of how to avoid the delicious sugar trap and stay on track with making healthy nutrition decisions at this time of year, I’d love to hear them. Snacking on a pumpkin-flavored piece of celery isn’t my idea of a good time, but I’m sure there must be some better alternatives out there.

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