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A post-Halloween cure for a sugar hangover? It’s possible

Illustration of candy and Halloween jack-o'-lanterns
Eating an abundance of sugar can put the body on a roller-coaster ride.
(Ellen Surrey / For The Times)

Maybe in early November, when there’s one scuffed little disc of purple candy at the bottom of the once-groaning plastic pumpkin bowl, it will be not only the last Skittle but the last straw.

Not. One. More. Piece of Reese’s, Snickers or Twizzlers.

In pre-COVID times it might have made sense to reach the end of October feeling entitled to treats after a summer of stone fruit and a fall of Fujis. But this year people are assuaging their uncertainty and fear with that reliable combo of chocolate and sugar.

There might be no trick-or-treating, parades or parties. But as sure as a witch’s wart, there are Almond Joys, Jolly Ranchers and Twix galore. And once opened, that 250-piece bargain bag starts to disappear before you know it — five or six miniature Mars bars by noon.

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Then comes the feeling cruddy, out of sorts and sluggish.

Eating an abundance of sugar can put the body on a roller-coaster ride, which makes you “feel crummy from ‘sugar high’ to ‘sugar low’ and even may cause that ‘sugar hangover’ feeling,” says Dr. Kimberly Petrick, a Kaiser Permanente family medicine physician in Santa Monica.

The sugar low that comes on once the feel-good hormone dopamine drops can include headache, thirst or fatigue.

And then there’s the digestion process: Sugar is absorbed quickly, so “the army of insulin deployed to conquer that surge of sugar is now still hanging out with no sugar left to battle,” Petrick says. That can cause a jittery feeling as well as headache, dizziness, sweating, fatigue, irritability, confusion and nausea, she says.

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Along with the stomach acid that helps break down food into digestible products, the stomach and small intestines pull in water from the body to flush out the sugar, she says. “This can cause the diarrhea, bloating and tummy discomfort.”

Petrick‘s recommended antidotes to overindulgence:

— Drink water to help reset the digestive tract.

— Eat an apple or banana, for fiber (the pectin in apples helps stimulate digestion).

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— Nonfat yogurt helps rebalance the gut flora. If you like, add nuts or chopped apple and banana.

— To soothe and relax the digestive system, try ginger, chamomile, peppermint or licorice tea.

— Lie on your stomach, which can help release trapped gas and relieve a stomachache.

Better than coping with the results, eat a meal with lean animal protein or fish before indulging, says Eric Sternlicht, nutrition specialist and associate professor at Chapman University. “That will stabilize the blood glucose, and you won’t feel that crash.”

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Candy on an empty stomach “is the worst thing you can do,” he says.

But there’s no need to banish all sweets.

“I definitely want sweets every day. My time is usually in the afternoon,” says Martha Rose Shulman, a cookbook author known for her healthful recipes. She chooses a square or two of “good dark chocolate. It’s hard to overeat. It’s like a really good cup of coffee.”


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