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Sweet Holiday News for People With Diabetes

Sugar Rush

WebMD Feature

Many people find it hard to refuse the onslaught of sweet and creamy temptations during the holiday season. Diabetics, who must watch their sugar intake, are no different.

They may say "No, thank you" to the department-store Santa offering a candy cane, but then succumb to the pumpkin pie, Grandma's cheesecake, and maybe the fruitcake that inevitably serves as the finale of any traditional holiday feast.

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But with the right game plan, people with diabetes can maintain their blood sugar without completely depriving themselves.

Hello, Sugar!

In the old days, doctors thought sugar enters the blood rapidly and aggravates already temperamental blood-sugar levels, so they warned people with diabetes to avoid sugar at all costs. However, the majority of scientific evidence does not support this recommendation. In fact, studies have found that blood sugar rises no higher in response to sugar than it does to white bread, rice, carrots, potatoes, and many other foods. Although various types of foods do cause levels of blood sugar to respond differently, the total amount of carbohydrates consumed is more important than the type.

Because of these findings, the American Diabetes Association loosened its recommendations on sugar. According to the association's 1999 recommendations, sugar and sugar-containing foods can be a part of a diabetic diet, but they shouldn't be simply added to the diet. Rather, they should be substituted for other carbohydrates already in the diet.

And while the green light may be music to the ears of anyone with diabetes, it is not a license to go overboard. That's especially true during the holidays, when worrying about gaining weight can in itself raise blood-sugar levels. In other words, if you want a small serving of pumpkin pie, then you must give up the baked potato with toppings at dinner. Or have half a serving of each. You can't have one serving of each.

If you're taking insulin, you must eat at consistent times synchronized with the action of the insulin you're using. If you're not taking insulin, spreading your food intake -- such as the day's allotment of carbohydrates -- throughout the day helps you avoid large increases in blood sugar that might otherwise occur.

Holiday Survival Kit

The goal during the holidays is to budget your sweets. That requires:

  • Advance planning
  • An emphasis on healthful recipes
  • Daily exercise

Here are some ways to put those guidelines into action:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat ("I'll only have a small piece of apple pie with no ice cream") and how you will handle social pressure ("No thank you, I'm too full"). Then stick to your plan.
  • Develop personal "rules" for sweet indulgences -- such as sharing one dessert with a friend, limiting serving size, scraping off the high-fat whipped-cream topping, or rationing desserts to three per week (in which case you're only postponing, not denying, yourself a treat). Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail!
  • Volunteer to bring a favorite low-sugar dessert, such as plain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings, to social functions. That way there will be something appropriate for you to eat.
  • Make sure you don't take a holiday from daily exercise. Continue your routine workouts in addition to extra activities, such as parking far from and walking to the mall, or power-walking while shopping.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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