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Happy, healthy holidays

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Many families are deep into the holiday season: still finishing up Thanksgiving leftovers, and perhaps savoring the last crumbs of deep-fried Chanukah latkes or slathering frosting and sprinkles on Christmas sugar cookie cut-outs.

While many of us revel in any excuse to enjoy such treats, there’s a new reason not to binge all those empty calories: On top of adding unwanted pounds, eating too many simple carbohydrates makes you feel more stressed out. The reason is that simple carbohydrates like those found in table sugar, white flour, honey, milk, candy, soda and fruit juices are digested very quickly, causing a jump in blood-sugar levels. The body reacts by producing extra cortisol, the primary stress hormone. A temporary energy ‘rush’ is followed by a crash – in adults as well as children- and the cycle puts extra cortisol into the system. Increased levels of the cortisol hormone have been linked to moodiness and anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain, lower testosterone levels, and other symptoms.

This time of year brings lots of opportunities for celebrating family moments with traditional foods and treats – and colder weather helps drive an appetite for richer, sweeter eats. Holiday parties and extra errands for seasonal shopping and special activities, all offer plenty of excuses to opt for quick, fat- and salt-saturated meals.

But indulging in healthier alternatives can help keep the good times rolling and take the edge off holiday stress. Complex carbohydrates, like those found whole-grain breads, oatmeal, potatoes, beans, brown rice and quinoa, are digested more slowly than simple carbs and help the body maintain a better chemical balance. Complex carbs also provide easily digestible fiber, vitamins and minerals that strengthen the body and mind against seasonal colds and flu.

Modern cookbooks and online websites offer a plethora of options for healthy eating. Why wait until January to start a repentance diet? This could be the perfect time to start some new, healthier traditions for happier, more peaceful holidays.

A few suggestions:

- Pediatricians recommend fat-free milk for all children over age 2.*

- Substitute whole-wheat flour in baking- or look for gluten-free recipes.

- Try some new cookie recipes: pumpkin-oatmeal or zucchini cookies, for example, offer fiber and vitamins as well as complex carbs—and they’re naturally delicious with less sugar.

- Make sandwiches and appetizers with whole-grain bread and whole-grain, low-sodium crackers in appetizers.

- If appetizers call for dip, use ‘light,’ no-fat, or reduced-calorie versions of sour cream and mayonnaise—or try substituting plain, low-fat yogurt.

- If you find yourself at a fast-food restaurant, try the “healthy side” of the menu and opt for a salad or a baked potato.

Helpful links:

Pediatricians' dietary recommendations for children*:

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/2/544/T3.full

More details about "simple vs. complex carbohydrates":

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/carbs/simple-vs-complex...

More information about cortisol and stress:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001.

Pumpkin-oatmeal cookies:

http://pamelasalzman.com/vegan-pumpkin-oatmeal-spice-cookies-recipe/ (gluten-free/vegan)

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