Published on 12/14/04

Holiday eating can be dangerous for diabetics

By Chowning Johnson
University of Georgia

Just about everybody eats more and exercises less during the holidays. And that's bad enough for anybody. But for people with diabetes, it can be dangerous.

"High blood glucose in the short term makes people feel tired and less energetic," said Janine Freeman, a nutrition specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "Long-term, it causes devastating complications that involve many parts of the body."

Making daily physical activity a priority can help control blood sugar. But the busyness of the holidays can make it easy to overlook exercise.

"People are less active during the holidays," Freeman said. "They also have a lot more tempting foods available."

Walking and other types of exercise can help relieve stress, improve your mood, lower your blood glucose level and control weight.

Break up exercise sessions

If it seems too daunting to spend 30 to 45 minute exercising in this busy time, try setting aside two to three segments of 15 to 20 minutes each. And there are other ways to exercise:

* Go to the mall, especially during inclement weather.

* Walk around your neighborhood to view holiday decorations.

* Park farther away from the store when you shop.

* Make the evening walk a family activity when you can catch up on your family's daily activities.

* Wear walking shoes while traveling by airplane, and go early to walk the concourses before your flight and during layovers.

Since holiday customs tend to center around meals, Freeman said, it can be helpful to focus on activities that don't involve food.

* Have family or guests help with holiday decorating.

* Organize groups to attend holiday musicals or plays.

* Have a caroling party.

* Go shopping with family or friends.

* Focus on nonfood gifts for gift-giving.

Especially watch carbos

"People eat portions that are too large, which leads to increased carbohydrates, which increases glucose," Freeman said.

Planning meals ahead of time can help keep your blood sugar in check. If you take your premeal insulin, you can adjust it to the amount of carbohydrate you're planning to eat. (The more carbohydrate you eat, the higher your blood glucose will rise.)

Popular high-carb foods around the holidays are stuffing, potatoes, breads, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole, pies and eggnog.

Low-calorie sweeteners can help reduce carbohydrates in some desserts, such as pumpkin pie, cranberry salads and sweet potato casserole. But sugar is usually needed in cakes and cookies.

To help keep blood glucose levels down after holiday meals:

* Fill up on low-calorie vegetables and salads.

* Don't eat second helpings.

* Eat a small portion of dessert in place of other high-carb foods.

* Don't drink sugar-sweetened beverages.

You can alter traditional recipes to reduce fat, too, Freeman said.

* Use defatted turkey or chicken broth instead of butter in preparing stuffing.

* Use nonfat chicken broth to replace milk and butter in mashed potatoes.

* Skim the fat from gravy and use it sparingly.

* Avoid high-fat condiments such as whipped cream, butter and creamy salad dressings.

Chowning Johnson is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.