Managing diabetes is a challenge at any time, but it becomes especially challenging during the holidays and the corresponding get-togethers that often feature plenty of high-carb, high-calorie treats.

But neglecting the dietary requirements for dealing with diabetes can have serious consequences:

  • Increased risk for infections and injuries
  • Accelerated muscle loss
  • Damaged kidneys
  • Increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increased risk for heart attack or stroke
  • Vision loss
  • Persistent pain
  • Nerve damage
  • Limb amputation

No worries, though – there are ways to enjoy some holiday foods this season.

Tips for Holiday Eating

When someone living with diabetes understands how to manage the disease, they are better prepared to make wise food choices during the holidays.

Carbohydrate control is key to managing diabetes successfully. This doesn’t mean the elimination of all carbs from the diet. The carbohydrate’s main function is to provide the body with energy. Carbs also affect blood sugar and insulin levels, support digestion, affect the absorption of other nutrients, and help us feel satisfied after eating.

Good carbs can be found in fruit, vegetables, quinoa, whole-grains, sweet potatoes, and legumes, and do not cause spikes in blood glucose levels.

The carbs that do cause blood glucose levels to spike are found in sugary drinks, pasta, white rice, sweetened cereals, almost all processed foods and, of course, the cakes, pies, cookies, and other sweet treats so prevalent during the holidays.

A low-fat diet is also recommended for people with diabetes because fat can cause insulin resistance, which results in glucose building up in the blood. But, as with carbs, this doesn’t mean that people with diabetes should completely eliminate fats.

Eaten in moderation, foods like avocados, dates, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines won’t increase insulin resistance.

Exercise during the holidays. Regular exercise stabilizes blood glucose levels. It is important for people to maintain their exercise regimen during the holidays. And if you are attending a holiday celebration and there is enough daylight and the weather permits, invite a friend to take a walk with you during or after the party.

Plan ahead for the buffet table. It could be quite helpful to find out what is going to be served, so you can start planning your menu. Also, ask about the approximate time that the food is scheduled to be served. This will determine if the senior should eat a snack before attending to avoid blood glucose levels dropping too low.

But this is very important – people with diabetes should not skip meals, thinking that they can overindulge later in the day. This could cause a severe blood glucose level drop followed by an unsafe spike later on after eating too much rich food.

Fill a small plate with healthy foods. It’s wise to consume vegetables, fruits, lean meats, or fish first. This will take an edge off of the hunger pains and make resisting or limiting the intake of less healthy foods easier later on.

Eat slowly. Savor the food on your plate. Slowing down will make you feel full sooner than eating quickly. This will also help you avoid second helpings.

Watch your alcohol consumption. If you drink, have a glass of wine, and avoid the hard-liquor, sugar-filled beverages often served at holiday gatherings.

Make some choices during your meal. If you would like a small piece of pie later, avoid the mashed potatoes and other carbs.

Move away from the food table after filling your plate. The sight and smell of food can increase one’s appetite. Find some place a little farther away. Strike up a conversation with someone (as long as they aren’t talking about how good the food is). Enjoy the festive atmosphere. Make food a nice but secondary consideration.

Continue to monitor your health and take medications as prescribed. It’s easy to get distracted and off-schedule during holidays, but managing diabetes requires regular monitoring and a commitment to staying on track with medications. It is very important to monitor blood glucose levels, as holiday foods can cause these levels to soar dangerously.  Caregivers can help in this effort by encouraging their senior loved one to be consistent with self-care during the holidays.

Bring something healthy to the gathering. If the menu items appear to be off-limits for someone with diabetes, ask if you could bring a dish or two to the celebration.

If you overindulge, get back on track. If you ate too much of the wrong foods at the gathering, don’t let it discourage you or give you the idea that you might as well keep overindulging.

Living with diabetes, especially during the holiday season, is challenging but it can be effectively managed. For more information on living with diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association.

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