How to Manage Dietary Sugar During the Holidays

By Michael A. Smith, MD

America is in the midst of a diabetes epidemic. In the past 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled, and children are being diagnosed with diabetes in alarming numbers.

Diabetes has rapidly emerged as a leading culprit in the epidemic of heart disease that is sweeping the country, and it’s also a leading cause of amputation and blindness among adults.

The holidays don’t help much either. It seems that our collective obsession with sugar actually gets worse this time of the year — if that’s even possible.

Pumpkin pies, cookies, cakes, chocolates — all of them affect how we process and metabolize sugar. Here are two things that happen when we suddenly overwhelm our systems with dietary sugar:

  1. Your cells become resistant to insulin and blood sugar rises.
  2. Your liver over-expresses an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphatase.
Below, we’ll explore some strategies to help correct these two major, internal consequences that can result from eating too much sugar.

Excess Sugar Decreases Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is responsible for removing sugar from the blood and transporting it inside the cells. However, as dietary sugar increases, so does the production of insulin. And too much insulin causes your cells and tissues to resist it.

The good news is that there are ways to improve insulin sensitivity. Here are three of them:

1. Exercise: The most metabolically active tissue is muscle. Toned muscle cells require a large amount of sugar for energy and are naturally sensitive to insulin. Resistance band exercises are the quickest way to tone muscle.

2. Lipoic Acid: This unique antioxidant plays a significant role in protecting against metabolic syndrome, which is a constellation of symptoms that often precedes full-blown diabetes. It reduces blood pressure, improves lipid profiles, weight, and insulin sensitivity.1,2

3. Green Tea: Drink it as much as you can. And when you can’t drink anymore, take a green tea supplement. Camellia sinensis (the plant that gives us tea) is loaded with epicatechin, catechin, gallocatechin, and epigallocatechin, which are powerful antioxidants. In particular, the epigallocatechins may have a role in preventing diabetes.3

If you follow the suggestions above, your insulin will function more effectively, which is a good start. But now we need to correct the liver’s over-expression of glucose-6-phosphatase — a powerful, sugar-creating enzyme.

Sugar Increases Glucose-6-Phosphatase Activity

Glucose-6-phosphatase is the last enzyme in a series of reactions that create blood sugar. This enzyme keeps blood sugar from dropping too low during exercise and between meals. This is how it happens:

  1. Eating sugar releases insulin and inhibits glucose-6-phosphatase.
  2. Insulin drives the sugar into the cells and blood sugar begins to drop.
  3. A couple of hours after eating (or during exercise), blood sugar reaches a low. So a second hormone, glucagon, activates glucose-6-phosphatase. By activating the sugar-creating enzyme, the liver is able to provide a constant supply of energy.
But here’s the problem: Eating too much food and sugar can increase glucose-6-phosphatase activity. This “over-expression” of the sugar creating enzyme provides blood sugar when you don’t need it.

So how then can we inhibit glucose-6-phosphatase? This is where coffee comes in. That’s right, coffee! Green coffee beans contain chlorogenic acid which actually inhibits glucose-6-phosphatase4. Chlorogenic acid has been shown to lower blood sugar and prevent high sugar spikes after a carb-heavy meal5.

Drinking coffee is good. But to get the right amount of chlorogenic acid, you’ll have to drink a lot of coffee. This is where supplements come into play. A green coffee bean extract of 200 to 400 mg that’s standardized to 50% chlorogenic acid will do the trick quite nicely.

’Tis the Season for Good Judgment

Now that we’ve covered exercising, drinking green tea, and taking a green coffee extract containing chlorogenic acid, you and your body should be a little better prepared for the imminent holiday sugar assault.

Of course, exercising some self-control should be your first line of defense, as always. Remember: Those New Year’s resolutions are just around corner!


  1. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2007 Mar;16(3):291-302.
  2. Hormones (Athens). 2006 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-8.
  3. J Nutr. 2004 Dec;134(12 Suppl):3431S-3440S.
  4. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):4141-4.
  5. Nagendran MV. Effect of Green Coffee Bean Extract (GCE), High in Chlorogenic Acids, on Glucose Metabolism. Poster presentation number: 45-LB-P. Obesity 2011, the 29th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Obesity Society. Orlando, Florida. October 1-5, 2011.


Alan said...

My first reaction is why can't restraint be the first line of defence? Why on earth would you eat a healthy diet and then abuse your body by eating crap at the end of the year.. Makes no sense to me.

LifeExtension said...

Alan and Kay - Restraint should be the first line of defense! But let's face it, not everyone can resist those holiday treats. :)

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