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Health Information Don't Let Diabetes Dampen Your Holiday Spirit

Enjoy the festivities while keeping your diabetes under control.

Often, people with diabetes feel restricted in what they can eat. Those feelings may be especially strong during the holiday season when parties abound and rich, sugary and salty foods are seemingly everywhere.

But, says Steven Rothschild, MD, a family medicine doctor at Rush, following these strategies can help you keep your diabetes under control while you enjoy the festive spirit of the season.

Lighten up holiday recipes
Reduce the sugar and other carbohydrates, like white flour, white rice and other processed grains, in your meal. Those carbs will become glucose or blood sugar once they're digested, and it's crucial to keep your blood sugar stable.

Just as important, says Rothschild, trim the fat from your holiday meals. Diabetics are at increased risk for heart disease. In fact, three out of four diabetics die of some type of heart disease. If you load up on fatty foods, you're likely to raise your risk of both heart attack and stroke even further.

In baking recipes that call for oil, you can usually cut the amount of oil in half. If you're concerned about how moist the baked product will be, substitute half the amount of oil required with unsweetened apple sauce.

In addition, use only healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, such as canola or olive oil, when you cook or bake. But, says Rothschild, even these healthier fats should be eaten in moderation to keep your calorie count down and help you control your weight.

Let the plate be your guide when making choices
Keep an eye on the amount of food you eat because eating too much can affect your blood sugar levels.

A good rule of thumb for your lean meat portion is that it be about the size of a deck of cards. Carbohydrate servings, such as pasta or rice, should be about the size of a fist.

An easy strategy for portion control is to think of your plate being cut into four sections:

  • Lean protein should take up one quarter of your plate.
  • Carbohydrates (such as grains, pasta and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn) should occupy another quarter of your plate.
  • Green vegetables and other nonstarchy vegetables (salads, broccoli, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.) should take up the remaining half your plate. Just make sure not to cook those veggies in oil or butter, or drown them in heavy dressings, dips or sauces.

And make mindful choices when preparing your plate. "Pick your favorite high carbohydrate or high-fat food and have a reasonable serving of that, but then cut back in other areas," Rothschild says.

"For example, you might decide that you'd rather have a serving of sweet potatoes than a dinner roll or mashed potatoes. That way, you're substituting one carbohydrate for another, not eating both."

Exercise at least 30 minutes, five times a week
Don't take a holiday break from physical activity. A regular exercise program can improve blood sugars, decrease the risk of heart disease, and help you lose weight — even at a time when most Americans gain.

You don't have to do 30 minutes at a time, either. If you find yourself crunched for time during the holiday season, try doing two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute stints.

However, talk to your health care provider before you start a new exercise program or modify your existing one. He or she may want to do a few tests first.

If you have complications related to your diabetes, like neuropathy or retinopathy, there are certain types of exercise that you should avoid, such as high-impact activities and lifting heavy weights. Choose low-impact or non-weight bearing exercises instead.

"Tell your doctor what kind of exercise you want to do so adjustments can be made to your medicine schedule or meal plan," Rothschild advises. "And remember, it's important to check your sugars before vigorous exercise."

Manage stress as best as you can
The holidays can be an extremely stressful time for many of us. But stress, both physical and mental, can send your blood sugar levels out of whack.

Consider a stress management workshop to help you learn better coping methods, or try a relaxing activity such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by all of the added holiday activities and errands, prioritize your To Do list. Ask whether each task on your list is something you must do right away, if it can wait or if someone else can do it. Cutting back will help cut down on your stress.

If you're a smoker, make quitting your No. 1 New Year's resolution
"While smoking is bad for everyone's health, it's especially harmful for people with diabetes," Rothschild says. The reason? The nicotine in cigarette smoke causes large and small blood vessels to harden and narrow, resulting in reduced blood flow to the rest of your body.

Because people with diabetes already have a greater risk of developing health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems and more, smoking makes the risks that much greater.

"These tips aren't just for diabetics," Rothschild says. "They're good advice for anyone who's trying to lead a healthier lifestyle and prevent serious health problems, including diabetes, down the road.'

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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November 2013

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