Internal Medicine

I’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes. What should I do to stay on a healthy diet during the holidays?

With so many tempting foods available this time of year, it’s difficult not to occasionally over indulge and that can be a special problem for individuals with diabetes. But having diabetes doesn’t mean that you can’t also enjoy holiday foods as long as you eat sensibly and continue to pay close attention to the types and amounts of food you eat. When it comes to your diet, no holiday foods are absolutely forbidden, but keep your consumption of concentrated sweets and alcohol to a minimum. One good tactic is to eat your usual meals before attending a party and then try to have "just a taste" of special items. When eating out, try to eat balanced meals. Remember that alcohol offers empty calories (no nutritional value) and may cause sugar fluctuations. Eat sweets in small quantities and immediately following a meal to minimize sugar swings.

To avoid overeating, use small to mediumsized plates. Divide the plate into four equal sections: one for meat or protein substitutes (serving size should be about the size of a deck of cards), another for carbohydrates such as breads, pasta and starchy vegetables and fill the remaining half plate with nonstarchy vegetables, salad or fresh fruit. If you are planning to have dessert, leave the carbohydrate section of your plate empty. Drink plenty of non-caloric beverages, but avoid artificially sweetened sodas as some studies suggest they may actually stimulate the appetite. Balancing carbohydrate intake throughout the day will help you minimize sugar swings. A serving of carbohydrates is approximately 12 -15 grams. Check with your physician or nutritionist for specific guidelines, but a daily total of 150 to 250 grams of carbohydrates per day is reasonable for many people with diabetes.

Remember, even if you are planning a evening out where there will be lots of food, you cannot “save” carbohydrates during the day and then eat them all at once. Doing so can cause wide fluctuations of sugar and your goal is to try to keep your blood sugar level relatively stable throughout the day. A good approach to your daily diet would be to eat one-quarter of your daily carbohydrates at each meal and then divide the remaining quarter to use for snacks.

Start paying closer attention to food labels. It’s a good way of knowing what, in terms of carbohydrates, fats and calories, is in the food you eat. It also gives you information on what a serving size is – usually a lot less than you think. Watch out for sugar equivalents (corn syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juices) in processed foods and keep an eye out for fats; they have a lot of calories. The holiday season brings with it other factors – stress, additional demands on your time and lost sleep – that can have a negative effect on diabetes management. So can alcohol consumption. Try to get enough sleep each day. Exercise will help you unwind and releases brain chemicals called endorphins that are natural mood elevators. Limit alcohol to no more than one drink in a 24-hour period, and always eat with alcohol. Beware of "mixers," many of which are very high in sugar. And never drive after drinking.

Monitor your blood sugars frequently to help you and your doctor to adjust food intake and medications appropriately.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 11/08

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