A figurative mine field of savory dishes and desserts await many this holiday season, from pumpkin pies topped with whipped cream, green bean and mushroom casseroles, pork tamales, cranberries and cornbread dressing to fruit salads and oven-roasted turkey.
Harris Health System experts warn that while most will indulge in these tasty foods and some will gain weight, people with diabetes will need a plan to stay healthy.
Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam, chief, Endocrinology, Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital, and Talar L. Glover, MS, RN, director, Diabetes Service Line and Patient Education, Harris Health System, say the strategy for people with diabetes is simple — portion control, planning sensible meals and getting regular exercise.
“The rules for taking care of diabetes on a daily basis are straightforward,” says Balasubramanyam, also a professor, Baylor College of Medicine. “Eat right, exercise, take your medicines and check your blood sugar. But following this every day, all the time, is hard. Everyone knows the rules, but the practice is difficult because you have to do it year-round for every meal, including holidays.”
Symptoms of diabetes:
• Blurry vision
• Excess thirst
• Frequent urination
• Weight loss
Complications from diabetes:
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Kidney disease
• Amputation of limbs
While people with diabetes face a challenge to stay healthy, they can still enjoy the abundance of tasty foods available during the holidays.
“There’s nothing that you need to avoid eating,” Glover says. “A small serving of pecan pie is fine, but don’t overdo it. If you’re going to have pecan pie, then you can’t have cranberries and cornbread dressing and gravy and mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.”
Because temptation is at every table, people with diabetes can’t afford to indulge on a whim.
“You can’t skip a meal to ‘save up’ to eat a big lunch or dinner if you’ve got diabetes,” Glover adds. “You’ve got to know what’s on the menu and try to spread your eating throughout the day. Don’t try to eat it all in one sitting.”
Normal fasting blood sugar ranges are between 70 and 99. However, even people who don’t have diabetes may feel the effects of temporary high sugar levels. While tryptophan in turkey is usually blamed for post-holiday meal sleepiness, the real culprits are overeating and increases in sugar levels. A good way to avoid this is to take a walk or plan a physical activity after meals.
Balasubramanyam warns people with diabetes against upping prescribed medicine doses to compensate for food indiscretions. Because of the danger of potential side effects, any change in dosage should be carefully monitored by a physician. Only patients taking insulin who know how to adjust doses based on carbohydrate counting and “correction” factors should even consider adjusting insulin doses to cover overeating during the holidays, he adds.
Harris Health System treats about 50,000 patients with diabetes, roughly one of every six patients seen through its network of hospitals and health centers. The health system’s diabetes education program has 15 sites recognized by the American Diabetes Association as being programs of excellence in providing comprehensive outpatient diabetes education.