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Holiday eating and diabetes

Friday, October 30, 2020

Autumn and winter not only mean cooler weather, but also an increase in those holiday treats that tempt us to overindulge – Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas parties, and more. Our love of baking also seems to emerge in the fall - bread, pies, and other confections.

Too much sugary food isn't good for anyone and Ashtabula County Medical Center Endocrinologist Rahul Sharma, MD, said people with diabetes should be even more careful during the holiday season.

"We are surrounded by foods high in carbohydrates and simple sugars this time of year. There are serious health risks when someone with diabetes consumes too much of these types of foods," he said.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition diagnosed when a person’s blood sugar level is too high – the result of an incorrect amount of insulin in the bloodstream. When the body does not release the correct amount of insulin, the blood cells cannot properly absorb the sugar, which provides fuel for our bodies.

As an endocrinologist, Dr. Sharma is trained to deal with a wide variety of hormone imbalances, including such as insulin control. He works with patients to balance insulin levels and control blood sugar to help prevent further complications or other health problems like heart disease or obesity.

“Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to more severe health problems which are difficult to overcome. People should schedule annual visits with their primary care provider and take time for blood tests, which can quickly show us your risk of diabetes,” Dr. Sharma said.

Symptoms of diabetes, and pre-diabetes, include blurred vision, dry mouth, fatigue, itchy skin, increased hunger, increased thirst, more frequent urination, slow healing cuts, and more. Diabetes and pre-diabetes can affect anyone at any age. The good news is many diabetics can control or reverse their diabetes by losing weight and controlling sugar intake.

Dr. Sharma said. “People with diabetes don’t completely eliminate sugar from their diet. It is a balance. Adults and children can use common-sense techniques to enjoy the holiday season with little disruption to health.”

Those common-sense techniques include:

  • Make a plan – We know what to expect at dinners and parties: casseroles, baked goods, sugary beverages, sweet treats, and so on. Set limits of how much you can eat or drink, based on your current health and the amount of sugar in each food. “By monitoring your blood sugar and moderating your food choices earlier in the week, you can go for a special dessert or have a glass of holiday punch,” Dr. Sharma said.
  • Eat before you treat – Prior to indulging that sweet tooth, eat a hearty, high-protein meal. Not only will you be less hungry for the treat, but the additional protein also helps avoid drastic sugar spikes. However, don’t skip meals just so you can enjoy a special treat. You’ll be too hungry to make safe and healthy carb choices.
  • Consider your alternatives – On the surface, a healthy food option may have the same amount of carbs or sugar as a candy bar. But, there are good carbs and bad carbs. “An apple is a healthy alternative because it provides fiber, is low in sodium, and has additional healthy vitamins. A small one has 15 grams of carbs. That's equivalent to 15 Skittles or three fun-sized candy bars, but clearly, an apple is better for your body than the sugary candy,” said ACMC Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Lori Gilhousen, GSN, RN, CDCES.
  • Make your own treats – If you take a dish to a party or provide snacks for your guests, consider what ingredients you are using. Gilhousen said, “You can control the sugar and carbs in homemade items or use sweetener-alternatives that limit sugars. Popular alternatives could be vegetables and dip, or something fun like ants on a log (celery, nut butter, dried fruit).”
  • Remake the recipe – We all have a beloved family recipe. Chances are, the ingredients grandma used were fresh - unlike today's canned or premade options that can be loaded with sodium, filler products, or manmade ingredients like corn syrup. The ingredients grandma used may have also been high in saturated fats. Knowing how to substitute ingredients will give you a tasty and healthy version of your favorite family recipe. “You control what goes in your recipe. Choose healthy alternatives and opt for low-carb, low-sugar options. For example, using olive oil, natural cocoa, and unsweetened applesauce in making brownies will reduce the calories, cholesterol, sodium, and fat,” Gilhousen said.
  • When you over-indulge, don’t give up – You can turn a temporary defeat into a long-term victory by taking an extra walk outdoors or walking in-place indoors. If you don’t like walking, do calisthenics or muscle-strengthening exercise, Gilhousen said.

To schedule an appointment with ACMC Endocrinologist Rahul Sharma, MD, call 440-997-6969.