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This Christmas, exchange your sugary desserts for something healthier

In Asia, the post-meal custom is not a sugary pie or cake — it’s fruit.

Holliday cookies are put out during a preview of the 2016 holiday decor, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Sugar isn’t innocuous.

Most of us can’t gainsay that statement.

Numerous studies show how excess sugar consumption fuels addiction, impairs memory, disrupts the bacteria flora and increases the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Our chronic inflammatory reaction to sugar can affect our mind as well, leading to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders. Studies indicate that the inflammatory nature of sugar can even cause other mental health problems, such as ADHD, depression and anxiety.

If we know this … then why can’t we cut sugar out?

I believe the problem isn’t ignorance. Rather, the problem is that most of us live in a culture that revolves around sugar. How do we escape it when it is all-encompassing? Do they really expect us to throw out the pecan pie for Christmas? Hopefully not. Pecan pie is my personal favorite.

But not all cultures are like that.

While living in Asia for almost a decade, I saw how typical locals not only don’t eat sugar — they don’t even like sugar. When I baked chocolate chip cookies for my neighbors, they would take a bite and then say, “Oh! This is too sweet. You should keep the rest. We won’t eat it.” This happened time and time again until I finally learned to stop baking them cookies and cakes. Rather, I learned to do what they did.

I brought fruit.

After dinner, the Chinese don’t take out a pie to eat. They take a plate of sliced apples and dragon fruit, pomelos and pineapple. Fruit is their dessert. The rare times they do eat a slice of cake (even their cake is light and filled with fruit), they always follow it with a large cup of warm water afterwards to wash the sugar down.

And their dietary practices show.

My foreign friends and I often commented how the typical Chinese toddler sat quietly in his stroller, serenely observing the environment, while our kids bounced everywhere and anywhere but in their strollers. Initially, we attributed it to the narrative that our toddlers were simply more creative and energetic. Eventually, we finally lowered our chins and conceded that perhaps our kids were simply on endless sugar highs.

While their kids were eating vegetable baozi and fish soup for breakfast, our kids were inhaling sugary cereal and strawberry yogurt. While their kids were drinking barley tea, our kids were gulping down apple juice.

Not only does their diet show in their children, but it reveals itself among the adults.

There is a saying in Asia that follows, “If you want to know a foreigner’s age, just subtract 10 years from what you think. If you want to know a Chinese person’s age, just add 10 years to your guess and you will be right on.”

Almost every Asian grandma I met had skin that looked like a supple child’s. Comparing it next to mine made mine look ancient. So, I only did that once.

As an unintentional iconoclast, when we moved back to Utah this year, I initially brought my neighbors gifts of watermelon and cantaloupe. Unfortunately, that practice quickly faded as the fruit here is much more expensive than in Asia.

Although it has become increasingly difficult to stick with fruit, (Utah’s mint brownies are my weakness), I have found that fruit is ultimately more satisfying than most desserts.

Nature really does know how to make it best.

This Christmas, although we may be unable to resist the pecan pie, maybe we can add bowls of apples and squeezed lemons on our table for dessert instead.

Christy J. Moore is a lawyer and stay-at-home mother of five active children in Salt Lake City. She lived in Russia for approximately two years, Taiwan for one year and China for eight years. From dancing with gypsies to reading with her children, she believes life is a radiant adventure with the people around her as the most radiant part.