Holiday sweets pose challenges to those with diabetes

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Special to The Dallas Examiner

It’s that time of the year when people are full of good cheer – when you can’t take more than two steps without facing a piece of cake, a handful of cookies or a bowlful of candy. If you happen to have type 2 diabetes, that can be a problem.

But health experts at Parkland Health and Hospital System say that having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to completely give up sweets and desserts, it just means you have to be more careful about planning and be willing to compromise a bit.

Remember, sweets are loaded with carbohydrates and people with diabetes need to control their intake of carbohydrates, no matter what the source. When they do eat carbs they should look for the healthiest carbs possible. But that doesn’t mean they need to deprive themselves, especially at this time of the year.

Carbohydrates stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but carbohydrates come in other forms, too, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us and offer a natural “high.” But eating lots of simple carbohydrates, without adding proteins or fats, can quickly leave you hungry and craving more food.

“It’s wrong to think that just because you have diabetes you can never eat anything sweet again,” said Sharon Cox, a registered dietitian at Parkland. “The truth is that with careful planning you can enjoy a piece of pie or a cookie. Just like other times of year, it’s a matter of managing your diabetes by monitoring what you eat and increasing your activity.”

Cox adds that you don’t have to have diabetes to take advantage of some of the tips and tricks to enjoy sweets during the holidays while still staying healthy.

“One of the big challenges at Christmas and other holidays is that food is everywhere and much of it is not exactly considered healthy,” Cox said. “But you don’t have to completely deprive yourself.”

Here are just a few ways that you can have your cake and eat it too:

• Anticipate what kind of food you may encounter at a holiday party. If your favorite pie will be there, plan your other meals during the day and your medications so that you can enjoy a piece of that special pie.

• Consider bringing your own dessert, one that you know is healthy and that you can share with others.

• Beware of “unconscious” eating. You may not even be aware that you’re passing the cookie tray for the fifth time and you’ve had a cookie every time.

• Say “no” to seconds.

• Monitor your blood sugar levels because you may be eating foods you don’t usually eat in amounts you don’t usually eat.

• Go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the television or the buffet table. Help set up the meal or help clean up afterward. Stay active.

• Put the focus on friends and family, not on the food.

• Limit or avoid alcohol.

• Consider sugar-free options.

• Don’t skip meals in anticipation of eating a huge dinner.

• Eat slowly and make sure you enjoy the foods you don’t usually have.

• If you do make a mistake and overindulge, don’t give up. Get back on track.

“The main thing to remember is that your holiday traditions, including food, don’t have to disrupt your control of diabetes,” Cox said.

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