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Sweet Holiday Tips for Diabetics

With care and moderation, people with diabetes can indulge, too

WebMD Feature

For diabetics, the holiday season is fraught with temptations. Candy is everywhere. Your well-meaning co-workers bring in plates of cookies that taunt you from the break room. You've got invitations to party after party where it seems like the foods were chosen either to test your will or spite you.

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But before you decide to give everyone a piece of coal and hibernate through the holidays, you should know that being diabetic doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite seasonal foods.

"During the holidays, don't deprive yourself for heaven's sake," says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, a consulting expert with WebMD and the author of Tell Me What to Eat if I Have Diabetes: Nutrition You Can Live With. "If there's something you want to eat during the holidays, whether it's English toffee or rum balls or what have you, you can eat it. You've just got to plan ahead."

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Joining in the Fun

Although sweets are often considered a diabetic's worst enemy, managing diabetes is more complicated than simply avoiding sugar. For instance, other carbohydrates -- like a serving of mashed potatoes -- can cause a surge in blood sugar just like a candy bar. It's the total number of carbohydrates that counts and not the form you're eating them in. Fat, which abounds in holiday cooking, should also be kept to a minimum.

So what should you be eating during the holidays? "As at any time of the year, you should be eating a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fat," says Gene Barrett, MD, of the department of internal medicine at the University of Virginia. He also stresses that you should be getting a good amount of fiber and complex carbohydrates.

That can be tricky during the holidays. But neither Barrett or Magee says you need to eliminate foods, since a good meal plan balances different types foods and outlaws none.

Planning Ahead

While the holidays are a time when you have less control over what food is put in front of you, you've still got control over what you actually choose to eat. Don't allow the usual high-fat and high-sugar holiday party fare to take you by surprise. If you're going to a party or a holiday meal, go prepared.

  • Know your own limits. "Every diabetic is different," says Magee, "and you need to figure out the balance of different foods that works for you." Although counting grams every day may be difficult, you should have a general sense of what combinations of carbohydrates, fats, and fiber work.
  • Try to anticipate the kind of food that you'll encounter at a party. For instance, if you know that your mom is making a favorite pie for dessert, plan your meals and medication during the day accordingly so that you can have a slice. You don't have to deny yourself if you think ahead.
  • If you're really concerned that there won't be food at a party that you can eat, consider eating a snack beforehand.
  • Another good alternative is to bring a dish with you that you know you can eat. Given that there are 17 million diabetics in America, there are a number of recipes and cookbooks for people with diabetes. In general, consider reducing sugar or using a sugar replacement in sweets and use pureed fruit as a substitute for fat in baked goods. Your host will surely appreciate the gesture, and you'll be able to relax knowing that you won't go hungry.

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