Holidays Can Still Be Sweet For People With Diabetes

There is good news for people with diabetes who want to enjoy this “eating season” along with everyone else.

This time of year can represent a minefield of temptations for people with diabetes who need to carefully monitor their diets. According to the American Diabetes Association, over 20 million people in the United States, or seven percent of the population, have diabetes. People with diabetes must constantly monitor and control their blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to eye problems and blindness, heart disease, stroke, neurological problems, amputation, and impotence.

“People with diabetes can enjoy the holidays while making good choices,” said Renee DeFrang, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. DeFrang, along with Deb House, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, teaches comprehensive diabetes education classes through the Diabetes Outpatient Program of Montcalm County at United Lifestyles in Greenville, Michigan.

“As educators, our wish for the holidays is that more people with diabetes become educated about how to live with their disease,” said House. “Knowledge is power and people with diabetes can live better if they learn more. There are many good food and lifestyle choices out there.”

Diabetes patients are encouraged to seek out high fiber foods because it helps blood sugar behave better and metabolize more slowly. The longer the body takes to assimilate what we eat into glucose, the better. Fiber slows down that process which is important for people with diabetes.

“It’s all about balance for people with diabetes,” DeFrang adds. “Balance of carbohydrates, fat and fiber in their diet, as well as balance of meal times. It’s about when and how much you eat, instead of focusing on what you cannot eat because you have diabetes,” said DeFrang.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that approximately 50 to 60 percent of total daily calorie intake should be in the form of carbohydrates. People with diabetes must carefully monitor their carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Carbohydrates – which, once digested, metabolize into glucose (sugar) – are abundant in most traditional holiday foods, well beyond the dessert table. For example, the average serving of homemade stuffing (1 cup) is about 30 grams of carbohydrates.

During the holidays it is especially hard to forgo all the traditional foods so choose carbohydrates wisely.  Fill up first on the roasted turkey, salads and vegetables. However, allow for small amounts of your favorite foods containing carbohydrates in your meal.  For example, have a small piece of dessert and give up your roll.

What if you give into temptation and over-indulge?

Take a walk, advises House. Exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels. And don’t forget to check your glucose level two hours after you eat. It takes about two hours for the glucose level to be back to near normal.

DeFrang offers people with diabetes other hints to having a sweet holiday:

  • If you are going to eat at someone else’s home, bring a dish to share, this way you will know how much carbohydrate is in this item and how much you can have. A veggie tray might be a great idea.
  • Don’t skip your meals for the rest of the day and go hungry to an event. You will be tempted to overeat and have more difficulty controlling your blood glucose from skipping the meal. Instead go for an extra walk before or after the event.
  • If you want to celebrate with an alcohol-based drink (and your physician allows you to have alcohol), use a sugar-free drink mix or choose the drier wines, such as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
  • Take small serving sizes and savor your food. Remember nothing tastes as good as the first two bites!
  • Use smaller dishes or bowls so you can fool your eyes into thinking you are eating larger portions.
  • Send any tempting leftovers home with guests.

United Lifestyles is a dedicated, multi-disciplinary team of health care partners focused on preventing illness and disease. The goal is to use education and preventive measures to help curb the high costs of health care and promote health lifestyles within our communities. United Lifestyles is a member of Spectrum Health United Memorial.