Managing diabetes over the holidays

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'Tis the season for food and fun and good cheer. As it should be.

Yet through these holidays, one of every 10 Americans will carry the challenges of living with diabetes.

Whether we have this chronic disease or not, most of us know that carrots are better for us than Christmas cookies. But let's get real. Holidays are a time for special foods and friends and family. How then, does diabetes control fit into the festivities of these celebrations?

According to the newest guidelines by the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should choose more foods that are "nutrient dense" and high in fiber such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes.

So let's cut to the chase. If you have diabetes and you happen to be in one of these situations, what can you do?

Office Christmas party. Lance the chef has prepared an incredibly tender prime rib. (Ask for half a slice. Eat it slowly and enjoy it twice as much.) Co-workers have packed the buffet table with homemade goodies of every kind. (Select a small serving of 1 or 2 items you absolutely cannot live without. Then fill the rest of your plate with vegetable dishes.) One funny dietitian has placed a sign in front of the decadent chocolate and caramel brownies that reads: "Calories = 749." (Sneak a few bites and share the rest with those at your table who "just want a bite.")

Cookie exchange. Remember the art of carbohydrate counting when surrounded by sugars and starches. For example, one 2" square brownie or two small cookies contain about 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates — the amount most people with diabetes can generally handle for a snack. Choose wisely.

If you plan to eat said sweets right after a holiday meal, however, remember that potatoes, rice, bread and other starches add more carbs to your total count. Select small tastes of these foods and say yes, please, to more salad and non-starchy side dishes.

Wine tasting. First and foremost if you have diabetes, ask your doctor if wine can be on your holiday menu. Certain medications and other medical conditions should not be mixed with alcohol. Secondly, head for the food table before you decide to taste wine. People with diabetes should never drink on an empty stomach. Sip slowly between bites of nuts, cheese, vegetables and crackers. And keep track of how much you taste so you do not exceed what is considered a "moderate" intake of wine: 8 to 10 ounces a day for men and 4 to 5 ounces a day for women.

Gee, this sounds a lot like the way all of us — diabetes or not — should approach the holidays. Why yes, it is

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. 

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