Living Well: Eating well during holidays and beyond with diabetes

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— Holidays are about celebrating friends and family, but let’s face it, they also are about eating. For diabetics, the focus on large portions and lots of sweet goodies can be challenging. Here are some tips to maintaining a healthy diet — and glucose control — during the holidays.

Count your carbs

It might seem like the only thing you need to avoid at holiday events is the tray of cookies, bars and chocolates. After all, diabetics simply can’t have sugar, right? Wrong. That thinking has come and gone.

For more

What: Diabetes education

Where: The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic, 785 Russell St., Craig

Contact: Lindsey Hester, diabetes educator, 970-826-2454

Learning to eat with diabetes can be daunting. TMH offers nutritional counseling to residents of Northwest Colorado with diabetes. Registered dietitians help with meal planning and carb control. Ask your doctor for a referral for nutritional counseling, or let the clinic help you get started.

“Now, we don’t just talk in terms of sugar, we talk in terms of carbohydrates,” said Lindsey Hester, a registered dietitian at The Memorial Hospital at Craig.

So what’s the difference? Carbohydrates, or carbs, include more than just sugars — they also include fibers and naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains. “Carbohydrates are in everything except meats and oils,” Hester added.

The first step of controlling your blood glucose levels is limiting carbohydrates in your diet. You don’t have to eliminate carbohydrates, just eat less of them and become aware of what foods are high in carbohydrates so you know when to take just one bite versus a large serving.

“Just a few extra bites of mashed potatoes could put you over your carb limit for the day. When it comes to starchy foods like breads, pasta, corn, potatoes, peas, beans make sure your portion size doesn’t exceed a third to a half a cup or two slices of bread at each meal,” Hester said.

Bring along your good eating habits

The ultimate goal for diabetics is to eat three small meals and two snacks per day instead of three large meals. To get used to eating less at every meal, Hester advises her patients to cut two of their usual meals in half and have the other halves as snacks. “Portion control is one of the hardest adjustments new diabetics need to make,” Hester said.

The good news is that low-carb diets help you lose weight, and you don’t have to lose a lot to have remarkable results: “If you are overweight and lose 10 percent of your body weight, you will have better blood glucose control and possibly attain normal blood glucose without medication,” Hester said.

Eat what you really want and limit the rest

Eating when you're diabetic is all about balance: “At a holiday party, plan out what you want to eat before starting in. Do you really want to eat the dessert or an appetizer? That’s fine, but adjust at mealtime — have a large salad with turkey on top and no gravy or yams,” Hester said.

It’s also wise to balance your meals with a mix of carbs, fats and proteins: “Try to have protein and/or some healthy fats with every meal and snack because they slow the metabolism of carbs, helping to keep your blood sugar levels steady,” she added.

Focus on activities and people more than food

As best you can, make sharing a moment with your sister or playing in the yard with your niece top priority rather than food. It’s these connections that truly bring meaning to the holidays.

“Make it a goal to exercise more during the holidays. Even just three 10-minute sessions a day has benefits with blood glucose control,” Hester said.

Drink in moderation

Raising a glass is a common occurrence during the holidays. Go right ahead, with a mental note to take sips instead of swigs and one glass instead of two or three. Alcohol contains sugar that’s taken up quickly by your bloodstream. After one, switch to lemon water or carbonated water with a splash of juice rather than a soda. According to the American Diabetes Association, sugary drinks worsen the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.

“One soda is one too many a day for a diabetic,” she said.

“Around the holidays, you don’t want to feel restricted, so focus on what you can eat and not what you can’t,” Hester said.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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