Diabetes and Holiday Sweets

Posted: December 20, 2010 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Q & Amy

I am a Nutrition Editor at Foodpicker.org, a website designed to help people with diabetes.  Here is a question I recently received:

Question

I have diabetes and this time of year is the toughest for me.  It seems holiday treats/sweets are everywhere tempting me!  Is it ok to indulge a little?  If not, how can I build up enough will power to avoid holiday sweets?”

Answer

Treats and sweets are very tempting, I agree.  Everyone has a food weakness of some kind.  Everyone likes to indulge a little.  And to add to that tempting treat staring you in the eyes, if you’re like me, you may experience feelings of guilt saying no to the host. Some people find it disrespectful when you turn their food down.  Perhaps they have been preparing the indulgence for hours or days and now you tell them “no” you can’t have it.  Doesn’t make a very merry scenario for anyone.

There is hope for this time of year. It comes down to one word:  Planning, planning, planning (ok maybe three words).  Does it sound like a lot of work? Maybe.  But you get the reward of having sweets, while staying happy and healthy.    Here are my planning tips.  Keep a journal of your foods, plan your day out, drink plenty of fluids, mingle about, and enjoy.  Let’s go over these tips in more detail:

JOURNAL:  Start a food journal if you haven’t started one already.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant.  My journal is simple.  I eat about 5 small meals a day.  I write the time I ate and a quick estimate of the serving sizes (e.g.; ¾ c cereal, 1/4c fresh fruit, etc).  Then at the end of the day I tally what I ate (e.g.; # of carbohydrates, # of non-starchy vegetables, # of fruits, etc).  I scribble all of this in a notebook and it’s fast and simple and it keeps me on track.   It’s amazing how a simple task like this can make a huge difference when you actually see on paper what you are consuming.  Don’t forget to journal things that many people forget to count, such as “tasting” food while cooking or quick snacks.  These can add up (especially when people are “tasting” a full serving size of their dish).  There are plenty of resources on line to keep track of your food intake (such as caloriecount.com) or many people use phone apps.  For me, it is fastest to write it down.  You may find a phone app to be the easiest.  Find the resource that works best for you.

PLANNING:  Ok, you have your journal.  Now plan your day out.  Days that I have to be up really early (4:15am) I will plan and portion my meals the night before. If I wake up at a more reasonable hour, I like to plan and portion my meals in the morning before work.  I will pack a lunch and snacks and make sure that I have enough food to be able to eat a small meal every 3-4 hours.  If you don’t have time to pack your food for the day, have an idea in mind as to where you are going to be for the day and where you can get healthy meals/snacks.  For example, if you are going to the cafeteria at work for lunch, look at the menu for the day and pick a healthy option.

Always eat before a function.  For a weekday office luncheon, eat one of your small snacks before the luncheon (i.e.; yogurt and 1oz of nuts) and order something healthy and light like a salad at the luncheon.  Plan your carbohydrates out so that you can have half of a portion of your favorite indulgence for dessert.

FLUIDS:  For a weekend-evening party, eat sensible throughout the day and drink plenty of water.  This will help you fell fuller longer and it’s good for you.

MINGLE:  When you get to the party, mingle for a while and then go for your indulgence.  It’s a party, so make it your number one priority to catch up with people rather than having food being the main event.  Make sure you have a portion of your indulgence that fits with your carbohydrate needs for that meal.  For example if you are allowed 60g of carbohydrates for dinner, incorporate your indulgence without going over that amount.  Here is an exchange list from the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association to help you calculate how many carbohydrates are in items such as sweets and desserts:

FOOD SERVING SIZE COUNT AS
Brownie, small unfrosted 1 ¼ inch square, 7/8 inch high (about 1oz) 1 carbohydrate (15g) + 1 fat
Angel food cake, unfrosted 1/12 of cake (about 2oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g)
Cake, frosted 2-inch square (about 2oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g)  + 1 fat
Cake, unfrosted 2-inch square (about 2oz) 1 carbohydrate (15g)  + 1 fat
Cookies, chocolate chip 2 cookies (2 /14 inches across) 1 carbohydrate (15g) + 2 fat
Cupcake, frosted 1 small (about 1 ¾oz) 2 carbohydrates (15g) + 1-1 ½  fats
Pie, commercially prepared fruit, 2 crusts 1/5 of 8-inch pie 3 carbohydrates (45g)  + 2 fats
Sweet roll or Danish 1 (2 ½oz) 2 carbohydrates (30g) + 2 fats

*NOTE – From the example above for a 60g carbohydrate meal – if you had your heart set on having a piece of pie, you would only consume 15g of carbohydrates at dinner (because the pie slice is 45g carbohydrates).  Desserts that only count as one carbohydrate, allows you to have a larger dinner with 45 grams of carbohydrates which may be more satisfying.

The main goal is to try to eat a healthy meal plan during the week and enjoy your tasty favorite treat/sweet at the holiday party.  A healthy meal plan includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and water.  Be active throughout the holidays.  Exercise helps to lower blood sugar. (different types of exercise and how to get started if you’re not on a plan already  is whole other blog).

In summary, the answer to your question is: yes it is ok to “indulge a little”, just be sensible and no, I do not believe in “will power”, I believe the trick to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is “planning.”

Enjoy all foods this holiday season, just don’t overdo it.  Happy Holidays!

Thank you for the question.  I enjoyed the opportunity to spread holiday indulgence success tips.

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