Holidays Can Still Be Sweet for People With Diabetes

There is good news for people with diabetes to 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 can not take a holiday from carefully monitoring 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 Lynn DeWitt, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. DeWitt teaches comprehensive diabetes education classes through Spectrum Health Diabetes Services, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If DeWitt has one wish for the holidays, it is that more people with diabetes would become educated about how to live with their disease.

“People with diabetes can live better if they learn more. There are many good food and lifestyle choices out there,” said DeWitt.

For people with diabetes, it is all about the balance of carbohydrates, fat and fiber in their diet.

“We encourage our patients to watch for high fiber foods because it helps blood sugar behave better – metabolize more slowly,” she said. “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.”

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 is about 30 grams of carbohydrates.

DeWitt acknowledges that during the holidays it is very hard to forgo all the traditional foods so she suggests choosing carbohydrates wisely. Fill up first on the roasted turkey, salads and vegetables. However, allow for small indulgences in your meal.

“If this is your one and only chance all year to have Aunt Betty’s homemade casserole, plan for it and balance out your choices,” she advises. For example, give up the roll and dessert in exchange.

What if you give into temptation and over-indulge?

Take a walk, advises DeWitt. 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.

DeWitt 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 that you know you can eat safely.
  • Don’t go hungry to an event or you will be tempted to overeat.
  • 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. Even a taste is better than missing out completely.
  • Use smaller dishes or bowls so you can fool your eyes into thinking you are eating larger portions.
  • If you are the host, send any tempting leftovers home with guests.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 560,000-member health plan, Priority Health. Spectrum Health’s 14,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need. The organization provided $98.6 million in community benefit during its 2007 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned more than 50 national awards during the past 10 years.