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updated: 11/15/2011 11:50 AM

Diabetes dilemma for the holidays

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  • Bob Chwedyk/ Marshmallow-topped sweet potato cups.

    Bob Chwedyk/ Marshmallow-topped sweet potato cups.


Either irony or design places Diabetes Awareness month in November, just as many still full of Halloween candy are preparing for the season of eating that includes Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's.

Diabetes and food choices are intimately connected with overweight/obesity and a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Therefore, foods eaten at holiday celebrations can wreak havoc on blood sugar readings of someone with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes. One out of every three people sitting at your holiday table may be part of the expanding crowd of those with diabetes as nearly 26 million in the United States have diabetes and another 79 million are prediabetic.

The holiday season is strongly connected to high calorie temptations and at the same time controlling what we eat is fundamental to managing blood sugar and diabetes. Many people take a back seat when it comes to healthy eating at this time of the year. With careful planning a person with diabetes or at risk for diabetes can maintain a healthy and balanced diet during holiday festivities. Here are a couple of tips to get you through the holidays with your blood sugar in check.

Make each bite count: If there is a buffet at the party, survey food choices on the buffet before you dole out any onto your plate. When you decide what items to eat, make your selections and remember to watch portion sizes. Choose small portions of foods you consider occasional treats and pass up foods you can have any time. Choose only your favorite "must have" foods from the overflowing buffet. For example, if you are not a fan of dinner rolls, skip the bread basket and choose a food that is a favorite.

One for all: A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is a healthy meal plan for everyone. As the host, serve plenty of vegetables along with lean meats, and dishes made with whole grains. As a guest, use the plate method as your guide when filling your plate. Fill half your plate with colorful vegetables, one quarter of your plate with whole grains, and the final quarter with a lean protein food. Recent studies indicate excess calories and saturated fat are precursors to Type 2 diabetes. You can reduce your saturated fat and caloric intake by removing the skin from turkey or trim any visible fat from meat.

Lighten up: Since it is unrealistic to completely avoid holiday treats, modify favorite desserts to fit into your holiday plans without expanding your waistline. Some familiar methods are substituting applesauce for oil in cakes or breads, and using egg substitutes or egg whites instead of whole eggs. A more recent technique promotes nonnutritive sweeteners such as Splenda, Sweet n Low, Sugar Twin, Purevia or Truvia in place of granulated sugar. Nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar substitutes are sweeteners low in calories but as sweet as sugar so taste is not sacrificed.

If you are not hosting the party, offer to make a healthy recipe to share at the holiday celebration. This will guarantee there will be at least one dish that fits your diet needs.

Focus on fun not food: Meal time is often the main event during the holidays. But the holidays are packed with many good things, not just food. Turn your celebration focus on family and friends. Celebrate the holidays with nonfood options such as helping to serve a holiday meal at a shelter, taking a family walk, sledding or skating.

With more than 100 million Americans with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes, it would be wise for all of us to focus on healthy holiday food picks. With a little planning and being mindful of what you eat, the season's offerings can be delicious and satisfying.

Try this recipe: Hands down this is the all-time favorite holiday recipe in my house. It makes a perfect side dish or can be used as a dessert at your holiday meal. This recipe also gets an A+ for the beautiful presentation of color and texture.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

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