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How to Enjoy the Holidays as a Diabetic

Healthful Holiday Eating
Your family can celebrate with the holiday favorites.
Your family can celebrate with the holiday favorites.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The holidays are approaching, and we all know that celebrating with family and friends means food -- usually lots of it!

You may have heard warnings that the average person gains 5 to 7 pounds during the holiday season. However, researchers from the National Institutes of Health have dispelled this holiday weight-gain myth. They studied 200 men and women from Thanksgiving to New Year's and found that the average weight gain was closer to about 1 pound.

While this is much less than previously thought, any weight gain is not to be taken lightly -- especially when the pounds stick around. A few pounds each holiday season can amount to a considerable weight gain over time, which can pose serious health consequences for people with diabetes.

The holidays may not be the best time to focus on losing weight, but it is realistic to concentrate on not gaining weight. Read on for some tips to help you enjoy the special foods of the season and stay on track with managing your diabetes and your weight.

Balance at the Table

Balance doesn't mean depriving yourself of holiday favorites. Instead, it means fitting reasonable amounts of holiday foods into your meal plan -- a feat that is entirely possible.

One simple way to bring balance to your holiday table is with fruits and vegetables. Packed with nutrients and naturally low in calories, produce provides eating satisfaction with few calories.

For example, serve fresh vegetables and low-fat dips before a meal, and offer fresh fruit salad as a dessert option. A vegetable-based soup is a great starter to help fill you up so you're less likely to overindulge on main dishes, sides, and desserts.

Feast on Fitness

To make it through the feasting without weight gain, include fitness in all your holiday plans. Use it to help burn off excess calories -- and relieve stress at the same time.

It may be a busy time of the year to start or maintain an exercise routine, but it doesn't mean that you can't make your other activities, such as shopping, more physical. Take the stairs at the mall instead of the escalator, or park in a remote lot and walk farther.

Remember that physical activity can be planned as part of your family gatherings. Plan a game of basketball or softball for your guests, go skating or sledding before your meal, or take a walk or hike after the meal.

Holiday Sweets

Holidays and sweets go hand-in-hand. These foods must be counted as part of the total carbohydrates that you are allowed each day. This means that sweets and treats shouldn't simply be added to your diet -- rather they should be substituted for other carbohydrates in your meal plan.

This is especially important for people taking insulin to avoid large increases in blood glucose. Your best bet is to talk to your diabetes educator or dietitian about your holiday meal plan. It may mean eating less of other foods, more exercise, increasing medications, or a combination of these.

Holiday Menu Tune-Up

Here are some great food prep tips for holiday cooking for people with diabetes:

Wild Rice, Cranberry and Apple Stuffing
Wild Rice, Cranberry and Apple Stuffing
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
  • Baste your turkey with fat-free chicken broth or apple cider instead of butter or drippings.
  • Use whole-wheat bread cubes instead of white to give stuffing a fiber boost. Or, be adventurous and try a stuffing made with wild rice, brown rice, or bulgur wheat, like Wild Rice, Cranberry and Apple Stuffing.
  • Add fiber and extra nutrients to your stuffing or vegetable dishes by tossing in a handful of raisins, dried apricots, or chopped nuts.
  • Instead of topping sweet potatoes with butter, sugar, and marshmallows, try tossing your sweet potatoes in a small amount of oil, sprinkling on some cinnamon and roasting them until caramel brown.
  • Use fruit butter or pumpkin butter as a low-cal bread spread.
  • Make your pumpkin pie with fat-free evaporated milk instead of whole evaporated milk -- a simple way to slice off 200 calories and nearly 30 grams of fat from a pumpkin pie.
  • Try cutting sugar by one-third to one-half in traditional dessert recipes and increase the use of flavorful spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet spices and flavorings. Or, try replacing some of the sugar with a sugar substitute that is suitable for baking.
  • When you're a guest, always peruse the offerings first. Load up on vegetables, add some protein, such as turkey or other meats to help satisfy your appetite, and then fill in with samples of carbohydrate-based foods, such as stuffing, potatoes, or pasta.
  • Don't arrive at a party with an empty stomach. Instead, be sure to eat a light snack or meal beforehand.
  • Start with half-size portions and savor every bite. If you're still truly hungry, you can always go back for seconds. Remind yourself to eat until you're satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Offer to bring a healthful dish to a party. The other guests also may appreciate the choice.

Holiday Fun for Children with Diabetes

Everyone loves a holiday party, especially kids, but the red flag pops up if your party involves children with diabetes. How can they have fun if they're diet-restricted?

It's not as hard as you may think. In fact, these parties can be more fun than the typical "junk food marathons." The key is making the entire party fun, and not using the food as the sole form of entertainment.

Kids with diabetes are just that -- kids. They can do what all kids should do: Eat a little less sugar, a little less saturated fat, and play more. It's basically pretty simple. But parties can make you feel overwhelmed, especially if you're used to simply supplying bagged chips, store-bought cakes, and sugary soft drinks.

When planning for your holiday party, think color, texture, and eye appeal with the serving pieces and the foods, too. Have a variety, be creative, and think fun. For example, serve the Peanutty Banana Dip in hollowed-out red and green apple halves. Use different brightly colored napkins of paper or cloth to line baskets or serve as a fun tablecloth.

It's also good to get the focus away from the food and toward other entertainment. With help from your child, organize an old-fashioned scavenger hunt, or have a "year-round" plastic-egg hunt, filling the eggs with small holiday trinkets instead of candy.

If you can keep just one thought in mind when planning holiday parties that involve children with diabetes, remember this: Don't preach or draw unnecessary attention to the "dos and don'ts" of foods. Instead of telling a child, "Eat this because it is good for you," it feels a lot better to hear yourself say, "This is so good, and so much fun!"

Making plans together not only brings the two of you closer; it also lets your child participate in that aspect of the party as well.

Learn more about diabetes and drinking on the next page, which includes a helpful chart that lists the carb and calorie count of some popular drinks.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.