At the heart of the many cultures that make up the United States and the holiday celebrations these cultures observe is food, family and community. During these festive times, a wide, delicious variety of foods is available from three sisters soup, longevity noodles, and tamales to jerk chicken with black eyed peas, turkey with stuffing, gulab jamun or potato latkes. So, with the fall season upon us and its many celebrations to come, we thought some quick dietary pointers and reminders for our diabetic patients and their families might be useful.
Simple Dietary Guidelines
On a daily basis, an appropriate eating plan for a person with diabetes revolves around fresh, whole foods that are high in fiber while low in processed goods and sugars. Increased insoluble dietary fiber reduces blood cholesterol levels, lowers blood glucose and insulin levels which helps regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day. This type fiber is found in fresh, plant based foods such as fruits, legumes, vegetables and nuts. These foods should be the backbone of the eating plan. However, during our celebratory events, this focus is often laid aside for several less diabetic friendly options. Simply bringing these ideas back to our family member’s awareness could help avoid unwanted health issues and increase their enjoyment of the events.
Glycemic Index as a Guide to Proper Food Choices
The major dietary concern for the diabetic is carbohydrates. There are three forms of carbohydrates; starch, sugar and fiber. The starch and sugar will impact a diabetic’s blood sugar levels significantly. This effect is known as the Glycemic Index (GI) of a food. The GI of a food ranges from 0-100, where a rating of zero tells us that the food choice has no effect on a diabetic’s blood sugar and a food with a rating of 100 means that the food will significantly raise the individual’s blood sugar. Therefore, because it is very important for a diabetic to be aware of their food choices, using Glycemic Index as a guide is a very sensible method of generating this awareness. Diabetics do not need to avoid carbohydrates completely but they need to be in control of the type and volume of the carbohydrate. A GI index ranking of 55 is a good number to target for food choices to be included in their dietary plan. In order to help the individual understand their food plan choices and food’s GI rank, an online program or an app on a smartphone will help grow the person’s understanding of their food choices.
Effects of Portion Control and Schedule
Two more significant considerations that help the diabetic maintain better control of their blood glucose levels throughout their day are portion control and scheduled meal times. These are important concepts with diabetics in general and can be maintained during times of celebration as well. Eating at regular 4-5 hour intervals throughout the day, along with taking their meds at the scheduled times are key to blood glucose stability, especially during these holiday celebrations.
Eating the foods that are primarily made up of whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, with limited processed foods, and limited simple sugars during these holiday celebrations is a great starting point. The other methods of blood sugar control that are easy enough to maintain, are having regularly scheduled meals, keeping the portions consistent and keeping them low in simple sugars.
***Please note that the above suggestions are not intended to be diet modifications for an individual with diabetes. The best recommendation is to consult directly with your primary care physician or a licensed dietician in order to develop an individualized, comprehensive dietary plan.***