Christmas is the time of year when sugary and alcoholic indulgences may seem inescapable. If you have diabetes, you will be especially nervous about succumbing to these ubiquitous sweet temptations, but this doesn’t mean you should feel excluded from enjoying your own tasty slice of healthy festive treats. On the contrary, it is essential to be well equipped with better-for-you alternatives to treat yourself a bit, so you are less likely to break your routine and wreak havoc on yourself. Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself! Many of the following suggestions are equally relevant for non-diabetics if you just want to maintain good health or watch your waistline over the holiday season.

Making sensible food choices and staying physically active will put you on the right track to balancing your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fats. It will also make your weight management a piece of cake, so to speak.

If you take insulin or other medications, make sure your supply will stretch over the Christmas period when doctors and pharmacies might be closed.

Exercise

Christmas is often busy with family visits and other social engagements, which may get in the way of your regular exercise. All the same, there is no shortage of easy and fun ways to get some physical activity into even the busiest of schedules.

Dancing at a party, going for a swim at the beach, rollerblading or skating at an ice rink are all potential ways to combine socialising with exercise – invite relatives and friends along, or set aside some time for yourself. A quick-paced walk is an excellent way to keep yourself physically active, even if it involves walking through a shopping mall to scour the sales. A walk shortly after a meal is good for digestion, and will help ease your blood sugar levels.

Managing stress

The lead-up to Christmas is a time of year that can overwhelm the best of us. For many of us, work, finances and organising social engagement can be a source of stress, and on top of that there is planning for Christmas and your summer holiday. Becoming fatigued or stressed is guaranteed to ramp up your cravings for sweet and fatty foods. Don’t be ashamed to set aside time for rest if you need it. Stress can also negatively impact your blood sugar levels, so try not to overload your schedule, or fall prey to the pressure of excessive spending that this time of year seems to demand.

Choose diabetes-friendly treats that don’t compromise on taste

  • Above all, maintain your usual eating habits. Spread your meals evenly throughout the day. Don’t forego your regular meals to make room for a single large meal.
  • When sitting down to enjoy a lavish Christmas lunch or dinner, limit the size of your portions and don’t overeat.
  • Make sure about half of your plate contains green salad or vegetables such as carrot or broccoli. Vegetables are low in calories and fend off free radicals and toxins that accelerate the aging process. Vegetables help you to feel full and quash the desire to fill up on unhealthy foods. It is more desirable to boil or steam vegetables than fry them. If cooking roast potatoes, reduce how much fat you add by dry-roasting or using spray oil.
  • When eating turkey, remove the skin and eat the light-coloured meat (breast) as opposed to the darker-tinted meat (thigh) to reduce calorie intake.
  • Avoid using high-fat, high-calorie sausage meat as a stuffing. A much better (and delicious) option is a vegetarian stuffing based on sage, onion and/or chestnut. Cook it separately from the dish you are stuffing.
  • If you are dining out, anticipate meals may be served much later than when you would normally eat. It would be wise to consider snacking before leaving home, or taking a snack with you to keep hunger at bay and preventing your blood sugar from falling.

Desserts

  • Christmas would hardly be the same without desserts. However, blood sugar levels will skyrocket after eating sweet foods so you need to be careful with your serving sizes.
  • Treat yourself and your family to delicious home-made desserts, using low-fat and low-sugar recipes where possible. You could also try making traditional mince pies without their pastry lids, or use single instead of double cream, for example.

Alcohol

  • Before drinking alcohol, you should consult your doctor. It is important to remember not to drink on an empty stomach, since this can cause your blood glucose levels to drop sharply and increase your risk of hypoglycemia. Accompany your drink with a starchy snack if not a meal.
  • Although it can be tempting to indulge, with so many social occasions over the festive season, do make an effort to not drink to excess. Diabetes NZ recommends men drink no more than three alcoholic drinks a day and women no more than two. One standard drink is defined as 100ml wine, 30ml spirits or 300ml beer. Each of these quantities is substantially less than the volume a standard glass contains.
  • A good way to keep your consumption of excess calories in check is to opt for low-alcohol wine or beer.
  • Alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (especially unsweetened ones) may also help moderate your alcohol intake, as well as keeping you hydrated.

Nutrients and vitamins to support diabetes

Nutrients and vitamins that balance blood sugar are especially important for Type 2 diabetes. Readers with diabetes will be aware that ideally, their meals should be mainly comprised of protein, fibre and healthy fats. For good sources of protein, look no further than fish, eggs and lean meat, while high-fibre foods include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, split peas and figs. Healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, avocados, and fish oil – the important fat of all.

It is often overlooked that magnesium, a mineral in which a majority of adults are deficient, is a key component in hundreds of biochemical reactions and helps regulate blood sugar levels by lowering insulin resistance. In fact, magnesium deficiency itself is possibly a cause of diabetes. Vitamins B-6 and B-12 are vital for ensuring nerve health, especially to treat conditions such as diabetic neuropathy. Another essential B-vitamin is biotin, required for metabolism, growth as well as the body’s production and use of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Likewise, ensuring that you obtain optimal quantities of vitamin-D is important for diabetics since the fat-soluble vitamin activates the genes which bolster the body’s antimicrobial processes – diabetics tend to be more vulnerable to both viral and bacterial infections as a consequence of diabetic ulcers and periodontal disease. All of these vitamins and minerals are found in About Health’s Element 12 nutrient formula.

Last but not least, chromium is a trace mineral which enhances the function of insulin and assists in transporting glucose and other nutrients into cells. Multiple controlled clinical trials following the impacts of supplemental chromium on patients with diabetes, insulin resistance and other blood sugar abnormalities have repeatedly indicated that chromium substantially improves glucose metabolism. Since New Zealand soil tends to be poor in this particular trace mineral, it is sensible to take it in supplement form. About Health’s Multiva formula is a high quality product which contains chromium.

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